More than “Talking the Talk” – Extension Programming and Communication Support One Health
Department of Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health
K-State Research & Extension
Kansas State University
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a One Health approach “recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment. It is a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach.” The definition acknowledges the “interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment.”
This approach – one of looking beyond traditional, easy answers – resonates across people and professions. Public health practitioners and programs model innovative methods building on those connections. One recent example was highlighted in the American Public Health Association’s “The Nation’s Health.” The publication featured ongoing research conducted since 2009 by Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with Ohio county fairs. The researchers visited more than 100 fairs each year in order to obtain swab samples from pig snouts, in search of emerging flu strains. According to the piece, the 2009 flu pandemic originated in pigs and resulted in over 12,000 U.S. deaths (Krisberg 2019).
It may seem unlikely to some that health research is conducted at county fairs, in farm plots, at nutrition education sites, or in countless other real-life settings. However, to many public health practitioners, it sounds very familiar – reflecting their work with the Cooperative Extension System, or CES.
Extension is a non-credit educational system that has been providing non-formal higher education to farmers, ranchers, communities, youth and families across the U.S. for over 100 years. Extension was officially created through the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, but informational clubs, or “Farmers’ Institutes” were created by individual states as early as the 1840s. Even earlier, agricultural societies formed around the time of the Philadelphia society in 1785 for the purpose of forming local agricultural groups and to “disseminate agricultural information through publications, newspaper articles and lectures.” (True 1928). Extension’s programs historically have, and will continue to, communicate new practices, emerging issues and trending topics to stakeholders in varied and ever-evolving ways.
In 2014, with an eye toward extension’s next 100 years, Cooperative Extension introduced their National Framework for Health and Wellness (Figure 1). The goal of the framework is to “Increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.”(APLU 2014).
Figure 1. Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health & Wellness. (Source:
Based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Prevention Strategy Action Plan, the Framework reflects Extension priorities of integrated nutrition, health, environment and agriculture systems. These focus areas, and the framework as a whole, parallel the definition of One Health. Extension serves as one important partner in researching, educating, supporting, communicating and evaluating efforts addressing the health intersect of people, animals, plants and their communal environment. One example of One Health education through Extension is Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Animal Science Anywhere activity “Health for One, One Health for All.” This interactive lesson is designed to teach participants, especially youth, that “environmental health, animal health and human health are all connected” (Kesler & Thelen 2016).
Relatively recent changes in education and extension landscapes have led to global Extension collaborations and broader perspectives on domestic and international issues. Extension systems exist, in some form, in every nation. All face the common challenge of delivering meaningful Extension in changing times, leading to opportunities unimagined just a few years ago (Swanson & Mao 2019). These global connections underline both the concept of One Health and viable emergent worldwide communication strategies.
- Krisberg, K. (2019). States in brief. American Public Health Association. The Nation’s Health, November/December 2019, 49, 10.
- APLU. (2014). Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health and Wellness. Accessed at: https://www.aplu.org/members/commissions/food-environment-and-renewable-resources/CFERR_Library/national-framework-for-health-and-wellness/file on December 20, 2019
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). One health. Accessed at: https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/index.html on October 22, 2019.
- Kesler, K. & Thelen, J. (2016). Michigan State University Extension (2016). Health for one, one health for all. Accessed at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/uploads/236/65684/4H1689_AnimalScienceAnywhere-OneHealth-WEB.pdf on January 2, 2020.
- Swanson Jr L.E., Mao K.R. (2019). Thinking globally about universities and extension: The convergence of university-based and centralized extension systems in China. Journal of Extension, 57, Article 6FEA4. Available at https://joe.org/joe/2019december/a4.php
- True A.C. (1928). US Dept. of Agriculture. A history of agricultural extension work in the United States 1785 – 1923. Accessed online at: https://4-hhistorypreservation.com/eMedia/eBooks/A_History_of_Ag_Ext_Work_in_US.pdf on January 2, 2020
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