EFNEP: Helping America’s Families One at a Time

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In this time of economical struggles, many people in the communities around us have experienced the hardships that many Americans face when trying to feed their families: wishing they could feed their family nutritious food but not knowing how nor if they can afford to. But, one program has taken on the great task of helping those who find themselves in grave nutritional and economic danger. That program is the Expanded Good and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP. This unique program that is sure to interest many of you as health professionals, educators, and members of the community, was designed with the goal of assisting limited-resource audiences in acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and changed behavior necessary for nutritionally sound diets, and to contribute to their personal development and the improvement of the total family diet and nutritional well-being.
Obesity, poor health, and limited physical activity are major health concerns and have been for some time now. EFNEP improves the health and well-being of limited resource families and youth. Additionally, EFNEP leads to public savings. Research shows that better health is associated with reduced health care costs, less absenteeism from work, and less dependence on emergency food assistance, and that is the goal of EFNEP. In short, EFNEP = Improved Health + Cost Savings.
EFNEP reaches over 1⁄2 million limited-resource families and youth each year. More than 80 percent of EFNEP families report living at or below 100% of poverty, and nearly 70% indicate being of minority status, and this is important because poor health disproportionately affects minority and limited-resource audiences. A federal/state partnership that supports nutrition education for the improved health of its participants, EFNEP uses a peer-educator interactive teaching model, which makes learning relevant and meaningful for participants. The lessons teach basic nutrition, food safety, label reading, meal planning and cooking skills. But who teaches these lessons? Trained paraprofessionals who live in the neighborhoods in which they teach, go into the homes of program families and teach 8 lessons. The lessons are taught in a variety of hands-on, interactive ways. Financially, reports have shown that each family saves an average of $21.00 per PERSON per month on groceries!
Annual data confirms graduates improve their diets: 92 % report more closely following MyPyramid recommendations, including an increase of about 1.4 servings of fruits and vegetables. A majority Improve their nutrition practices: 88% improve nutrition practices, such as making healthier food choices and reading nutrition labels. And a great majority have been able to stretch their food dollars further by the end of the 8th session: 83% improve food resource management practices, such as planning meals and shopping with a grocery list. Other benefits include Handling food more safely: 66% improve food safety practices, such as storing and thawing food properly, and 40% now do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. One participant reported, “I never realized how much fun it could be to feed my family, how good I feel when I can stretch our food dollar throughout the month, and how rewarding it is to know that I can help my son grow strong by buying the right kinds of foods.”
There’s no question about it: the benefits have been extensive and EFNEP really does make a difference in the lives of its participants, and as members of the field of nutrition and dietetics, I am sure many take interest in programs like EFNEP who welcomes RDs.

For more information, please feel welcome to visit: http://efnep.ucanr.edu/

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