A study by Altarum Institute and RTI International has found that well-designed nutrition education programs can lead low-income families who participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to make healthier food choices. The study focused on the impact of nutrition programs about fruit and vegetable consumption in 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."
After studying three SNAP programs in three different states the study found that children who participate in nutrition education programs increased consumption of fruits and vegetables at home by a quarter to a third of a cup. They were also more likely to choose low-fat milks and cheeses. Seniors who participated also increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by about a half cup.
"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 who participated in this study provided low-income elementary students nutrition education in schools as well as take home materials and activities. Researchers found that these programs were well-received by school staff members. The most successful intervention used a variety of methods that educated students and engaged parents and caregivers about providing healthy foods on a tight budget.
The third program provided nutrition education, take home materials, and other materials to low income senior citizens. Research found that those who participated in the take home activities chose healthier behaviors and engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges to purchasing, consuming, and preparing fruits and vegetables.
This study demonstrates that nutrition education programs can be effective. Programs supported by the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, or SNAP-Ed, can impact SNAP participants' ability to try, buy, and eat healthier foods.
"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."