Nutrition Education Programs Benefit Everybody

Linda Benedict, Sasser, Diane, Roy, Heli J.  |  12/4/2013 11:07:12 PM

De'Shoin York Friendship, Diane D. Sasser and Heli Roy

Children who do not receive good nutrition suffer from poor health and obesity and run the risk of becoming unhealthy adults with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions. Missing school potentially results in falling behind in academic achievement. For the parents, missing work because of illness or their children’s illness could affect work productivity. Like the pebble in the pond, the repercussions of poor health eventually touch everybody.

The first step in creating change is helping families understand the need for change. But with more than half of children in Louisiana living in poverty, many families are simply trying to survive. Federal programs exist to provide assistance in moving families beyond survival mode and onto a path of health, safety and empowerment. Grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide mechanisms to assist eligible individuals and families. Each of these funding sources includes educational programs for assisting limited-resource audiences in acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for better health and well-being.

The LSU AgCenter and the Southern University Agricultural Center provide educational programs backed by researchbased information. Between these collaborative efforts, disadvantaged youth, families and seniors in all 64 parishes throughout Louisiana are offered services. 

Nutrition and Parenting
Two of these educational programs are Healthy Beginnings for Your Baby and Parents Preparing for Success. Each program has its own mission and target audience, and both use interactive teaching methods to disseminate information such as child safety and nutrition, care for self, financial management and parenting strategies.

More than 1,600 young mothers annually learn about the importance of healthful food and activity choices prenatally and for the baby after birth. In an evaluation of participants in the programs, it was found that average knowledge and skills gained in effective parenting practices improved by 29 percent in a before and after measure. Also, participants’ average knowledge and skills gained in effec tive financial management practices improved by 28.6 percent. The comments from one young mother are typical of what is captured in face-to-face follow-up interviews: “She showed me a way to save…I was…going to the store just buying and buying and…and then you know buying things [food items] I really didn’t need. I guess just cuz I wanted them.”

EFNEP
The mission of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), a state and federal partnership, is to assist low-income families and youth improve their health, to have a better quality of life through improved diets, and to make a better selection when buying foods by managing their food budgets. The core elements of EFNEP are diversity, empowerment and peer delivery. The program empowers its staff and participants to make positive changes in their personal lives and involves individuals from the community to deliver its messages.

EFNEP is focused on wellness and food. Wellness encompasses chronic disease prevention, and the foods aspect focuses on accessing and preparing healthy foods, making better food choices, stretching food dollars and food safety.

Annually, more than 2,000 families and 14,000 youth are enrolled in EFNEP in Louisiana. At the end of the program 95.6 percent made a positive change in their eating habits, 21.3 percent ate two or more fruit a day compared to 13.8 percent at the onset, while 34.1 percent ate two or more vegetables a day compared to 23.8 percent at the onset. Also, 31.7 percent made a positive change in physical activity at the completion of the program.

SNAP
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest nutrition assistance program administered by the USDA. The mission of SNAP-Ed, (the educational piece of SNAP), is to improve the likelihood that SNAP participants (youth and adults) will adopt healthy food choices within a limited budget and incorporate active lifestyles and habits that promote good health.

Key objectives of SNAP-Ed are for SNAP participants to: 1) increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains or nonfat and low-fat dairy by one serving per day; 2) increase physical activity; and 3) practice three of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

The SNAP-Ed program uses various teaching methods to communicate its message to its participants. Whether through a school garden, the Smart Bodies program, Smart Portions classes, the Families First Nutrition Education and Wellness System, the Traveling Kitchen or Family Nutrition Night, participants are engaged in a dynamic learning experience.

Evaluations of the results of the program, including its workshops and activities, indicate that 97 percent of adults were trying new, healthier recipes for their family; 4-H campers increased their number of steps per day to an average of 11,967 steps; 75 percent of parents improved in considering healthy food choices when meal planning; 70 percent reported purchasing more fruits for their children; and 60 percent reported they are incorporating more vegetables into their family meals.

The results of each of these programs indicate potential positive changes in health for children and families. Those results will benefit schools, communities and workplaces across the state.

De’Shoin York Friendship is an associate specialist in nutrition and the director of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNEP) at the Southern University Agricultural Center. Diane D. Sasser is the Adrienne Gravois Brazon Professor and director for the Healthy Beginnings for Your Baby Program and the LSU AgCenter SNAP-Ed Program. Heli Roy is director of EFNEP at the LSU AgCenter and an associate professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

(This article was published in the fall 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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