|navigate: home: magazine: fall 1999: article|
Nutrition education program promotes healthy diet and lifestyle|
By Celena E. Kusch
In the United States today, low-income families are often chronically undernourished. They have trouble stretching limited food dollars to provide healthful diets and have limited access to affordable, healthful foods. In fact, each year an estimated one in eight children in the United States does not get enough to eat. Poor diet leads to poor health, low work productivity and impaired mental functions. Gaining these skills can make a real difference in the lives of children, youth and families.|
Pennsylvanias Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches food preparation skills, food buying, food safety, meal planning and nutrition to low-income families across the Commonwealth. Trained EFNEP staff help homemakers and children acquire the knowledge and skills Last year alone, more than 2,667 volunteers contributed time and expertise to adult, child, youth and pregnant teen programs, reaching 7,825 low-income homemakers, including 556 pregnant or breastfeeding teens, and 8,503 low-income children and youth from preschool through high school. Forty percent of clients were from a variety of ethnic minority populations, and 74 percent of families had children.
Working parents, single homemakers, pregnant teens and youth from rural and urban communities are taught in small groups or individually by nutrition education advisers hired from within the community and trained and supervised by Cooperative Extension agents and by University faculty and staff. During 1998, 135 nutrition education advisers in 54 counties received referrals from welfare offices, neighborhood centers, churches, agencies, former participants and other individuals across the Commonwealth. Two programs, Eating Right is Basic and Eating for a Better Start, form the core of EFNEP adult programming. Several other programs target youth primarily in after-school and day camp activities.
Eating Right is Basic is often used in a delivery model called the SuperCupboard. (Please see SuperCupboards article for more information.) SuperCupboards help chronic users of emergency food systems. Participants learn about stretching food dollars; planning and preparing tasty, healthful meals; feeding babies and children; preserving food safely; reading food labels; and using food stamps and other resources wisely. A SuperCupboard is a place where parents of school-aged children can receive emergency food and life skills education, plus prepare and eat a hot lunch with some of their neighbors.
The Eating for a Better Start curriculum targets pregnant teens, but has also been adapted to reach pregnant adults, nonpregnant teens, husbands and boyfriends. Eating for a Better Start was developed by Penn States Nutrition Center and EFNEP, with support from the March of Dimes. The workshops cover the kinds of foods pregnant women should eat, the amount of weight they need to gain and eating habits that ease pregnancys discomforts. In addition, lessons in fetal development, the dangers of substance abuse, breast and formula feeding, and introducing solid foods to infants help prepare teens for the kind of responsibility they will need to raise their families well.
By helping teenage parents and their children get off to a good start nutritionally, were helping them make a future for themselves, said Judith W. Heald, registered dietitian and EFNEP program manager.
According to EFNEP evaluations, these programs produce direct results in clients lives. Diet recalls taken at entry into and exit from the program demonstrate that 92 percent of the 4,486 program graduates made a positive improvement in food choices, primarily in the consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
EFNEP participants also gain job readiness, parenting and socialization skills. Many use EFNEP to move from isolation into peer interaction. The children of program participants often join 4-H, and clients participate in group lessons and other extension programs. Some EFNEP graduates go on to serve on Cooperative Extension advisory committees and as volunteer leaders for youth groups.
EFNEP is a people-oriented program, Heald said. For 30 years, EFNEP has reached low-income families in Pennsylvania. Families enrolled in EFNEP receive guidance along the path to better nutrition and greater self-sufficiency.