(01/02/24) BATON ROUGE, La. — Much of the work LSU AgCenter nutrition agents are doing centers on the specific needs of the communities they serve.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, AgCenter nutrition agent Dewanna Bandy Drewery partnered with a local high school to provide nutrition classes for students and their parents. She collaborated with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to bring a food pantry to the school to help with food security for students.
In Rapides Parish, Jennifer Duhon, an AgCenter area nutrition agent, has partnered with the Alexandria Zoo to reach families receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Duhon said her community partnership with the zoo has allowed nutrition agents to work on policy, systems and environmental changes.
“We invite a diverse audience into the zoo, and we at the LSU AgCenter are there to provide education and resources,” Duhon said.
Across the state, these efforts represent a subtle but significant shift in the work agents — long called Family and Consumer Sciences agents — are doing to improve the health and wellbeing of Louisiana residents.
To more accurately reflect the community-based approach to health and nutrition, the group is changing its name to Nutrition and Community Health.
“Because the needs of our clients have shifted, we want to expand to address the complex social and economic issues that our communities face,” Drewery said.
In Ouachita Parish, AgCenter nutrition agent Cathy Agan is working with community partners to improve neighborhood parks so that individuals and families will have a place to enjoy nature and become more physically active.
“We are changing environments where people eat, live, shop, work, learn and play,” Agan said. “This community-based work helps individuals and families adopt the nutrition and physical activity principles we have long been teaching.”
The LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative has been improving health access in the past 10 years in targeted communities across the state by bringing healthful food options and retailers to areas considered food deserts, improving walkability in towns, and adding exercise stencils and fitness signage to public spaces such as parks and playgrounds.
Gina E. Eubanks, AgCenter associate vice president and nutrition and food sciences program leader, said the new name strengthens the AgCenter agents’ connections with the community at large, stakeholders and partners, reflecting individual as well as community values and expectations.
“Recognizing the evolving landscape of health and societal needs, a name change to Nutrition and Community Health signifies an intentional effort to align our extension programs to respond to increasing public health challenges in our communities,” Eubanks said.
Food is an important part of Louisiana’s culture, so the agents are striving to make health part of the culture as well. That means moving beyond a traditional model of just providing classes throughout the community.
“It is important for the communities that we serve to know that we are not just in the business of providing education on how to live their healthiest lives,” said Joy Sims, an AgCenter nutrition agent in Madison and Tensas parishes. “We also want to improve overall community health by working with them to determine barriers and solutions to health to help make the healthy choice the easy choice where they live.”
The name change became official Jan. 2. AgCenter Nutrition and Community Health agents work in all 64 parishes to reach every community in the state.
Families visit tables with nutrition information and resources during an event at a Healthy You at the Zoo event at the Alexandria Zoo. The LSU AgCenter partners with the zoo to reach families receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These types of partnerships and events are part of the reason LSU AgCenter’s Family and Consumer Sciences group is changing its name to Nutrition and Family Health. Photo provided by Jennifer Duhon/LSU AgCenter
Students at Kiroli Elementary in West Monroe give a thumbs up during a nutrition lesson. Nutrition agents visits schools to help children develop healthy habits early in life. Photo provided by Cathy Agan/LSU AgCenter