WASHINGTON, December 5, 2013 -- The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released a study providing clear evidence that well-designed nutrition education programs can lead to healthier food choices by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The study, SNAP Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II), evaluated the impact of several nutrition education programs on fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income elementary school children and seniors. The study 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 results of this study reiterate the critical role of nutrition education and promotion in improving the healthfulness of SNAP purchases,” said 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.”
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. The most successful intervention utilized 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 though 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 nutrition education provided by SNAP represents a unique opportunity to address the epidemic of obesity in our country, while also supporting vulnerable citizens with a strong nutrition safety net,” noted Concannon. “SNAP provides benefits to our nation’s health, as well as our economy. It is essential that Congress work quickly to enact a comprehensive, multi-year, Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that preserves these critical programs.”
Through SNAP-Ed, USDA provides funding to states to implement nutrition education interventions designed to help participating families make healthy choices. The programs discussed in today’s report were implemented by the Iowa Nutrition Network, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and the Michigan State University Extension, and the evaluation of the programs was conducted by the Altarum Institute and RTI International.
No one solution can solve the problems of poor diet and obesity among American children and families, which is why USDA and its program partners continue to seek out and implement evidence-based solutions to encourage SNAP participants to purchase and consume healthy foods. As we present these results, we are pursuing a range of strategies that improve access to healthy foods, including:
- Testing the impact of public-private efforts to incentivize fruit and vegetable purchases by SNAP recipients, including the SNAP+ pilot project in Minnesota that offers $5 coupons to SNAP households for the purchase of locally-grown fruits and vegetables and a pilot project with Fair Food Network in Michigan to make available locally-sourced produce in corner grocery stores in metropolitan Detroit.
- Making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to low-income families through grants to help farmers markets install and operate EBT card readers. More than 3,800 farmers markets and farm stands are now authorized to accept payment through SNAP and WIC.
- Gathering stakeholder input on stricter “depth of stock” requirements for SNAP retailers to better determine how to improve program integrity and expand the availability of more healthful foods to SNAP recipients, without compromising access to food for SNAP participants or unnecessarily burdening retailers that redeem SNAP benefits.
- Evaluating the results of the Healthy Incentives Pilot, designed to test the impact of incentivizing fruit and vegetable purchases among SNAP recipients. Our work to date demonstrates that a relatively small ongoing investment may result in a 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults.
- Providing shopping strategies and meal planning advice to help families serve more nutritious meals affordably through its 10-Tips Nutrition Series and the Thrifty Food Plan.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work together to form a national safety net against hunger.