March is National Nutrition Month, a reminder that we can all do better when it comes to eating right. But if resources are limited, it can be hard for individuals and families to access nutritious foods and practice other healthy habits, experts say.
That’s why a nation-wide community nutrition education program has worked for the last 50 years to help low-income Americans improve their health through nutrition education.
“Our goal is to help reduce the health disparities often associated with those who have limited financial resources,” said Karla Shelnutt, principal investigator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in the state of Florida. “To do that, we help participants gain the knowledge and skills they need to make better food and lifestyle choices, all while stretching their food dollars.”
EFNEP serves six Florida counties—Escambia, Seminole, Hillsborough, Polk, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade—through the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. In 1969, the U.S. Congress established EFNEP in all 50 states and U.S. territories, where it’s administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and implemented nationally by land grant universities such as UF.
“Part of the land grant mission is to extend knowledge to all residents so they can improve their lives,” said Nick Place, dean of UF/IFAS Extension. “EFNEP has had remarkable success in this area. Those who complete the program experience measurable, positive changes in behavior. That ultimately leads to reduced healthcare costs and greater food security,” Place said.
Here are some of the statewide impacts for 2018:
- More than 3,700 adults and 6,200 youth graduated from EFNEP
- 85 percent of adults and 95 percent of youth graduates improved food choices. Compare this to the 82 percent of Floridians who don’t eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
- 58 percent of adults and 20 percent of youth improved their food security. In Florida, 14 percent of the population is food insecure.
- 86 percent of adults and 46 percent of youth improved food resource management practices, such as cooking more meals at home.
- 88 percent of adults and 53 percent of youth improved food safety practices.
- 86 percent of adults and 56 percent of youth increased physical activity.
EFNEP is taught as a series of free classes where participants get hands-on experience selecting, preparing and sampling various nutritious ingredients and meals. Participants also learn how to be smarter grocery shoppers and how to practice food safety.
“A big part of what makes EFNEP so effective is its strong ties to the communities it serves,” Shelnutt said.
“One key to our success has been our dedicated peer educators, who come from the communities served by the program. They are able to develop meaningful relationships that help our participants learn and change behaviors. Our partnerships with local community organizations help us reach underserved residents, and we’re especially grateful for these collaborations over the last 50 years,” she said.
EFNEP partners with a variety of organizations, from food pantries and farmers markets, to faith-based organizations and libraries.
To learn about EFNEP in your area, visit efnep.ifas.ufl.edu.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.