Make smart choices for a healthier lifestyle

Linda Benedict, Tobie Blanchard, , Annrose Guarino  | 10/19/2015 12:30:12 AM

We encounter choices that affect our health all day long. Take the steps or the elevator? What to have for lunch? Watch television or go for a walk? LSU AgCenter nutrition educators are empowering people to make smart choices for a healthier lifestyle. They’re doing this through a nutrition education program aimed at a variety of audiences called Smart Choices. Go to this site and you can find out all you need to know about living a healthier lifestyle.

Nutrition Education

The LSU AgCenter has a long history of nutrition outreach. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), aimed at low-income families and youth and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been around for more than 30 years.

“EFNEP follows the objectives of many of the LSU AgCenter’s nutrition programs of teaching clients how to eat better for less money,” said LSU AgCenter nutritionist, Heli Roy.

The Family Nutrition Program (FNP) is similar to EFNEP in that it targets low-income families, specifically recipients of food stamps or those that are eligible for food stamps.

Both programs are taught by nutrition educators, who are para-professionals trained by LSU AgCenter faculty. In a multitude of ways, these educators present a series of lessons to clients. The lessons contain information on choosing healthy options for meals and snacks, shopping behavior and food resource management and food safety tips.

“We can do a three-hour workshop for a large group or a 15-minute session for an individual,” said Annrose Guarino, an LSU AgCenter nutritionist. “We try to meet any schedule.”

Smart Choices and the LSU AgCenter’s nutrition education programs have changed. Traditionally, the programs targeted women. Now there is an increased emphasis on recruiting men to participate in the sessions.

“There are a lot of men who are single dads, and we want to get them this information, too, so they can make healthy choices for themselves and their children,” Roy said.

Targeting Youth

LSU AgCenter nutritionists have developed a curriculum for fifth to eight graders. It is a series of nine lessons based on grade level expectations. There are several opportunities to get Smart Choices information to youngsters. 4-H agents can use it in their 4-H programs and extension agents can deliver the information to youngsters in after and before school care. It also can be used in enrichment programs in the classroom. The curriculum is designed to help with standardized tests.

Nutrition Educators

The LSU AgCenter employs paraprofessionals or nutrition educators to work with groups and individuals. The educators are placed in areas of greatest need with a high concentration in urban and high poverty areas. Also, they are recruited from the community in which they serve. The educators must pass the EatSmart online certification program to become certified nutrition educators.

“We have become so successful with our training and certification that other organizations want our nutrition educators,” Guarino said. “Other states use our curriculum, and we are proud that they consider it valid and reliable.”

Nutrition educators recruit and target certain groups and individuals for their nutrition programs.

“They may target head-start families, families that live in low-income housing or individuals that live within a certain zip code that is designated as a high poverty area,” Guarino said.

Also they get requests from groups such as PTA organizations and church groups looking for specific information. Individuals may request nutrition information as well.

“Sometimes a family with a history of heart disease may want information on heart healthy nutrition,” Gaurino said.

Nutrition Education Impact

With nutrition educators in targeted areas of the state, and family and consumer sciences agents and 4-H agents in every parish of the state, the LSU AgCenter is well-equipped to bring nutrition education to groups, families and youth.

“We do make a difference in the individuals that we see in the programs,” Roy said. “They do experience weight loss, improved well-being and lower health care costs.”

Guarino estimates that every dollar put into nutrition education can lower health care costs by $2 to $3. This translates into savings for the individual, the family and the taxpayer.

Nutrition education also can build confidence in participants. Many parishes have graduation ceremonies for clients that participate in multi-part programs such as EFNEP and FNP. These clients receive certificates after completing their education programs.

“Some of our clients do not have high school diplomas. They have no higher education. This is the only certificate they have ever received, so it can be very emotional for them,” Roy said.

Through nutrition education, the LSU AgCenter is working to improve more than just the individual.

“It is about a healthy environment,” said Guarino. “Does a community have walking trails? Are healthy lunches available to youngsters year round? What can we do about vending machines in schools?”

Groups and individuals can request nutrition education by contacting their local LSU AgCenter extension office.

“When you are ready to make a change, we are there to deliver the information,” Roy said.

Read more about LSU AgCenter nutrition education resources:

Smart Portions: Watch How Much You Eat

Smart Choices for Youth and Adults

Smart Bodies: A Nationally Recognized Child Wellness Program

The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.

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