Fighting Obesity One Family at a Time

Tobie Blanchard  |  4/6/2017 5:16:46 PM

Federal Nutrition Program Nearly 50 Years Old

For nearly 50 years, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, referred to as EFNEP, has been addressing challenges such as obesity and food insecurity in low-income families through community educational programs.

The LSU AgCenter and Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center jointly oversee this federally funded program, which began nationwide and in Louisiana in 1969, and have seen families make positive changes after participating in it.

“The program teaches participants to make healthy food choices on their dollar,” said Sharman Charles, LSU AgCenter EFNEP coordinator.

The program uses a peer educator approach with nutrition educators hired from within the communities they will serve. The educators help recruit families with children under the age of 19 living in the home for the program and teach a series of eight lessons designed to improve health. The lessons focus on four priorities: nutrition and physical activity, food resource management, food safety and food security.

Charles said the nutrition portion is based on U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, and the physical activity portion is based on guidelines from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Food resource management helps participants purchase healthy foods on a budget. Food safety lessons teach about safe food handling and cooking practices, while food security offers advice for making sure participants have food all month long or know where to secure food if money is tight.

Leona Camel, a nutrition educator in Caddo Parish, said she partners with groups in her community such as faith-based organizations, agencies that offer parenting classes, Head Start programs and drug treatment programs.

“We find those groups where our clients are and offer these free classes there,” Camel said.

Camel has been teaching the program since 2009. She said she has seen many successes over the years.

“We have clients that lower their blood pressure through exercise. They get off medications by changing their diets. They shop smarter. Every small change in the right direction is a success,” she said.

Camel also works in schools and said recipe sampling activities get youth participants to try new, healthful foods.

The program is taught in every region of the state, with the LSU AgCenter or Southern University Ag Center overseeing programs in Acadia, Avoyelles, Bossier, Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, Evangeline, Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison, Richland, St. Landry and West Carroll parishes. These parishes were selected because of the number of families living in poverty.

De’Shoin York coordinates Southern’s EFNEP program and said it is successful because it focuses on the well-being of the family.

“It has a personal touch method of providing nutrition education, and that sometimes gets lost in today’s society,” York said.

Participants evaluate the program when they complete it. Results from an LSU AgCenter survey show:

  • 85 percent of participants showed improvement in one or more food resource management practice, such as plan meals, compare prices, use grocery list and not run out of food.
  • 87 percent of participants showed improvement in one or more nutrition practices, such as make healthy food choices, prepare food without adding salt, read nutrition labels or have children eat breakfast.
  • 45 percent of participants showed improvement in one or more food safety practice, such as thawing and storing foods correctly.

In 2016, the LSU AgCenter had approximately 1,300 adults and more than 9,000 youth enrolled in the program.

Tobie Blanchard is assistant director of LSU AgCenter Communications and the communications coordinator for the College of Agriculture.
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Eva Davis, LSU AgCenter nutrition agent in East Baton Rouge Parish, conducts an EFNEP outreach activity at Bernard Terrace Elementary School in Baton Rouge in February 2017. Photo by Olivia McClure

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In Eva Davis’s class, the children learn that exercise should be part of a daily routine. Photo by Olivia McClure

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Reaching children with nutrition information and having them sample and learn to like fruits and vegetables is one of the goals of EFNEP. These children are at Bernard Terrace Elementary School in Baton Rouge. Photo by Olivia McClure

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