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Background: Early adolescents perceive peers as credible and relatable. Peers therefore have a unique conduit to engage early adolescents in positive health behaviors through nutrition learning such as that recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Purpose: We developed an online, peer leader component to an existing in-person preventive nutrition intervention called NutriBee. We reasoned that youth ages 13–18 could create intervention materials that could remain engaging, credible and relatable to younger peers ages 10–12 online. Peer leaders could potentially derive health benefits from their service-learning experience.

Methods: From 2013–2014 youth could apply online to relate a personal interest to nutrition, an opportunity promoted at NutriBee pilot sites and through social media. The peer leaders with diverse backgrounds honed original ideas into tangible projects with the support of adult subject-matter experts chosen by the youth. Nutrition expertise was provided by NutriBee staff who then also converted the youth-invented projects from various media into an online curriculum.

Results: 19 of 27 (70%) of selected youth from 12 states and diverse backgrounds, created an online curriculum comprising 10% of NutriBee’s 20-hour intervention. All 19 online projects modeled 1 or more of NutriBee’s 10 positive health behaviors; 8 evoked the chemosenses; 6 conveyed food texture; and 13 provided social context. Peer leaders perceived career advancement and service learning benefits. The dose, pedagogic approach, and project content align with the IOM recommendation.

Conclusions: Youth created intervention materials which communicate positive health behaviors online in ways peers can adopt. In a customarily sight-sound digital platform, youth leveraged the senses of smell, taste and touch and social context important for food selection. Peer leaders derived health benefit, as indirectly assessed by IOM criteria.

Copyright Statement

This document was originally published by BioMed Central in Nutrition Journal. This work is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Details regarding the use of this work can be found at: doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0031-2