Thursday, September 1, 2005
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is frequently asked, by a variety of nutrition education partners, how it defines a sound impact evaluation. The principles introduced here describe the characteristics of strong impact assessments of nutrition education. They are also consistent with the Government and Performance Results Act and the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance for clear demonstration of program effects. The principles are neither unique to evaluating nutrition education nor to assessing nutrition education in a particular FNS program. Instead, they reflect a set of standards that are generally regarded as pre-requisite to drawing credible conclusions about the impact of many types of educational, economic and social initiatives. The information provided here first distinguishes impact assessments from other kinds of evaluation and then introduces the characteristics of strong impact studies. This document is not a hands-on guide for designing impact evaluations and may include a few unfamiliar terms. For those interested in operational tools for conducting impact evaluations, an annotated reference list is provided. Further, the statement of principles is not intended to establish policy directing nutrition educators to conduct impact evaluations. The principles do, however, suggest when an impact evaluation should be considered and what research features are optimal for learning which interventions improve eating habits and support healthy lifestyles. FNS is committed to helping to build a sound body of nutrition education information. We offer these principles as a tool for educators, researchers, and policy makers to support our joint efforts toward that objective.