Well-designed nutrition education programs can lead to healthier food choices among low-income families who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to a study conducted by Altarum Institute and RTI International.

The study SNAP Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II) was funded by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It evaluated the impact of several nutrition education programs on fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income elementary school children and seniors.

“One of the most important findings from this study is that families want to eat healthy foods, even if they have limited resources,” said Altarum Institute’s Loren Bell, the study’s project director. “Education efforts that help individuals and families make healthy food choices are clearly an important part of our overall health, and can make a big difference for families with young children all the way to our senior citizens.”

The study evaluated three SNAP programs in three different states and found that children participating in certain nutrition education programs increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption at home by a quarter- to a third-cup, and were more likely to choose low-fat or fat-free milk. Participating seniors consumed about a half-cup more fruits and vegetables daily.

“The findings from this study demonstrate the important role that evidence-based, outcome-driven interventions play in helping consumers improve their dietary intake,” said Sheryl Cates, the RTI project director.

Two of the programs studied for this report provided nutrition education lessons in schools, take-home materials and activities to low-income elementary-aged children. Researchers found that the design, content, and messages of the programs were well-received by school staff members. The most successful intervention used a variety of methods to educate students while engaging parents and caregivers through take-home materials that helped to address concerns about providing healthy foods on a tight budget.

The third program provided direct nutrition education, take-home materials and other materials to low-income adults aged 60 to 80 at senior sites and other gathering centers. Researchers found that participants that completed take-home activities adopted healthier behaviors and were more engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges and barriers to purchasing, preparing and consuming fruits and vegetables.

The study demonstrates that effective nutrition education programs, like those supported by the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, or SNAP-Ed, can impact SNAP participants’ willingness to try, buy and eat more healthy foods. The program, which was recently updated through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, emphasizes evidence-based, outcome-driven interventions, with a focus on preventing obesity and coordinating with other programs for maximum impact and cost-effectiveness.

“The results of this study reiterate the critical role of nutrition education and promotion in improving the healthfulness of SNAP purchases,” said USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “USDA and our partners continue to explore a wide-ranging set of strategies that support families as they purchase, prepare and eat more healthy foods.”

Altarum Institute (www.altarum.org) integrates objective research and client-centered consulting skills to deliver comprehensive, systems-based solutions that improve health and health care. Altarum employs more than 400 individuals and is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., with additional offices in the Washington, D.C., area; Portland, Maine; and San Antonio, Texas.


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