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EFNEP is still teaching nutrition after 35 years

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A limited income can make people feel they have a limited chance to succeed in life, but a program in Mississippi has spent the last 35 years showing that does not have to be true.

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, known as EFNEP, is offered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its goal is to assist limited-resource families in improving their nutrition, health and economic status. This year it celebrated 35 years of work in Mississippi.

"Our primary goal is to promote sound nutrition and health principles to limited-resource families through education," said Edith Butler, Extension EFNEP coordinator. "Unlike welfare and food assistance programs, EFNEP focuses on nutrition- and health-related knowledge and skills."

EFNEP does not provide food or money to the families it serves, but it does give them the tools they need to wisely use the resources they have.

The program targets limited-resource families with young children. Many of these families participate in government assistance such as food stamps, WIC, Head Start and commodity food programs. Butler said reaching children in these families is a primary goal.

"By educating children in good health and nutrition practices, we hope to enable them to make wise choices for themselves and to influence the habits and practices of their parents," Butler said.

EFNEP programs are conducted in 40 Mississippi counties. Each of these counties has a youth program, and 19 have an adult component as well. EFNEP operates by hiring and equipping 50 nutrition educators from within the communities to offer training and provide education. An army of volunteers extends EFNEP's outreach efforts.

Judith Ward, Extension nutrition and food safety area agent working out of Union County, has been with EFNEP since 1992. She has seen the program change during her career.

Where EFNEP once worked just with community groups, today the majority of youth are reached in school, although summer programs do operate in community organizations. Adult education is moving to group classes rather than one-on-one efforts in the home.

Ward said schools and teachers in her area have been very receptive to EFNEP programs. Two curriculums are used: Making Healthy Choices for Kids is taught to kindergarten through first-grade students and Professor Popcorn is used for third-graders.

"We started teaching preschoolers thinking it would be a crossover way to reach parents, and we have found that to be true," Ward said. "When you teach young people something, they go home and tell their parents."

EFNEP nutrition educators teach once a month in school and give a take-home assignment for the parent to help the child with. Teachers receive exercises to reinforce the nutrition lessons taught by the EFNEP educators.

EFNEP educators use the curriculum Making Healthy Choices with PALS, or Partner Assisted Learning Series, when working with adults. Recruited individuals and those referred from service organizations go through a series of 12 nutrition lessons, learning ways to improve diet and lifestyle. EFNEP works with at least 50 families a year in each county where it is active.

For more information on EFNEP, contact the local Extension office or Butler at (662) 325-4578.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following counties have EFNEP programs: Adams, Amite, Attala, Chickasaw, Claiborne, Coahoma, Copiah, Covington, Forrest, Franklin, Holmes, Humphreys, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Leake, Lee, Leflore, Marion, Montgomery, Neshoba, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Perry, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Simpson, Smith, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tunica, Union, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wilkinson, Winston and Yalobusha.

Released: Sept. 9, 2004
Contact: Edith Butler, (662) 325-4578

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