COLUMBIA, Mo. -Eating healthy and being active are important, but choosing a healthy snack, planning a nutritious meal or checking the nutrition label on an item are not always easy for people with limited knowledge and resources. Two University of Missouri Extension programs are teaching families throughout the state how to make healthy choices to improve the quality of their lives.
"Experts know that the obesity rate in Missouri is too high," said Candance Gabel, State Coordinator for Family Nutrition Education Programs. "Two ways to lower the rate are to teach people to choose nourishing foods and to increase their physical activity. Our curriculum focuses on eating better to get the nutrients necessary for good health."
Family Nutrition Program (FNP) offers basic food nutrition education to low-income adults and youth throughout the state. The program's primary audience is school-age children, but it also targets high school students and adults through curriculum in the classroom, cooking classes and social marketing campaigns. FNP's curriculum includes Show-Me Nutrition, a sequential program from pre-K through 8th grade, Food From the Farm, a program that connects kindergartners with local farms to teach them where fresh produce comes from and Kids in the Kitchen, a program that teaches youths how to grow and cook vegetables.
"It is important to teach parents and children how to make healthy choices," Gabel said. "We target economically disadvantaged populations because they may not have the same resources as other people, including financial resources and access to affordable, fresh foods in their communities."
Participants in FNP's adult education program report thinking more about wholesome choices to feed their families, using nutrition labels to decide what to eat, increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed each day and exercising more.
"My mom is thankful for what the program taught me about eating well and exercising," said one youth participant. "Because of what I've learned, she has lost 45 pounds and we are a lot more active together."
FNP educated more than 400,000 Missourians last year. Teachers who work with program coordinators in their classrooms report observing changes in students' behaviors and hearing the students talk about choosing healthful snacks, trying new foods and becoming more active. Teachers also report their own increased awareness of nutrition as a result of the curriculum.
"A young mother volunteered in a third-grade class and after class, she told the teacher how much she had learned through her child's participation in FNP," a nutrition educator said. "She and her husband made lifestyle changes for their family based on information their child learned in the program."
Another MU Extension program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), targets women with children to help them achieve health and fitness for their families. Lessons include managing a food budget by planning grocery shopping and comparing prices in the store, making better choices by reading nutrition labels and eating nutrient-rich foods, and safe food preparation practices. Last year, the program reached 6,280 participants in 53 counties across the state.
FNP is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Food and Nutrition Service Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. EFNEP is also funded by the USDA. Both programs, facilitated by the College of Human Environmental Sciences and MU Extension, are part of Missouri Family Nutrition Education Programs.