EFNEP program has powerful impact on families, health care costs

It's a return on investment that would have even the best financial managers shaking their heads in awe.

For more than 40 years, Iowa State University Extension's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Family Nutrition Program (FNP) have been at work in Iowa communities, helping low-income couples and families plan healthy, cost-effective meals.

martin_headshotA study released by the National EFNEP data program in December 2000 showed that for every $1 spent to deliver nutrition education in Iowa, $8.03 is saved in future health care costs, such as those associated with food-borne illness, healthier babies, and chronic diseases. And these savings come to the people who need it most – in 2010, EFNEP and FNP nutrition education programs reached 2,144 low-income families with young children, including 119 pregnant teens. Of these families, 24 percent are from Hispanic ethnicity and an additional 19 percent are from other minority backgrounds.

The profound impact upon hard-to-reach populations can be attributed to a variety of reasons. But Peggy Martin, Extension state specialist for EFNEP and FNP, said the programs' model of teaching and learning is the biggest factor in drawing new people to receive the help they need.

"We use a paraprofessional model,"  Martin said. "This means the staff come from the very communities they are working in. We choose outgoing, caring individuals who have experienced financial stresses themselves. Then we train them in nutritional well-being and they go back to serve people within situations they know well. This model is quite successful in behavior change because the paraprofessionals understand the economic conditions of the community, and are passionate about showing others how to spend less and still be healthy. Participants can relate well to them." 

In addition to monetary savings, entry and exit interviews with participants also show that participants increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. In 2010, figures showed they increased by an average of 1.1 cups and milk products by .8 cups. As dietary standards change, Martin said Extension field specialists and paraprofessionals stay up-to-date on the latest in regulations.

"Every spring, we have a two-day training session and explore current topics in nutrition and healthy living,"  Martin said. "This year, 2010 dietary guidelines and the new sodium intake guidelines will be big topics. We also send out monthly newsletters, and the local paraprofessionals meet with nutrition field specialists at least every other month to stay in-the-know." 

Besides working with families in their homes or community centers, EFNEP and FNP staff members work with youth. In 2010, more than 15,600 low-income youth were reached through school enrichment activities.

"EFNEP and FNP are able to get to families who wouldn't otherwise have access to nutrition education or even current news on the web,"  Martin said. "Our field specialists and paraprofessionals are breaking down the science and research and helping people understand the proper steps to a healthy diet and sound nutrition, creating a better life for parents and their children." 

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    A study released by the National EFNEP data program in December 2000 showed that for every $1 spent to deliver nutrition education in Iowa, $8.03 is saved in future health care costs, such as those associated with food-borne illness, healthier babies, and chronic diseases.

  • ” … [We're] helping people understand the proper steps to a healthy diet and sound nutrition, creating a better life for parents and their children.â��
    -Peggy Martin, Extension state specialist for EFNEP and FNP