CSU lands national center for nutrition education, obesity prevention

Colorado State University is one of only four institutions in the country chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a new center focused on nutrition education and obesity prevention.

The Western Region Nutrition Education Center for Excellence (WRNECE), funded through an $856,250 grant from the USDA, will have an emphasis on low-income members of the Hispanic population, one of the fastest-growing populations in the West.

photo of foodThe center, a partnership between CSU and Washington State University Extension, is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of nutrition education and obesity prevention programs, which have long been one of CSU’s strengths thanks to initiatives like the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed).

The goals of the WRNECE are to:

  • improve the evidence base of adult nutrition education programming in EFNEP and SNAP-Ed;
  • address community and public health approaches to prevent obesity and improve nutrition through policy, systems and environmental change;
  • provide staff development opportunities for program leaders and staff members.

The center will be accepting applications for sub-grants from the Western region for assessing the program outcomes until 5 p.m. on May 1. The Western region is defined as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Island. For more information about applying, visit http://wrnece.colostate.edu/.

“The center and associated projects provide an expanded opportunity to validate the best practices that we have developed,” said the center’s leader, Susan Baker, who is associate professor in CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition as well as the Extension specialist for EFNEP and SNAP-Ed. “Additionally, we are able to investigate ways to improve the programs across the Western region.”

photo of food“Nearly one in three children today is overweight or obese, and nutrition promotion strategies, including education, public policies, health systems, and environmental changes, are the key to reversing this trend,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the USDA agency that funds EFNEP. “These centers provide the opportunity to improve the health of our next generation and ensure that all children have access to the tools they need to improve their nutrition and physical fitness.”

“This joint grant program between NIFA and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is one of the most important and powerful tools at our disposal to promote healthier choices and improved physical health among participants in our nutrition assistance programs,” said Audrey Rowe, administrator of FNS, the arm of the USDA that funds SNAP-Ed. “I am thrilled that we have been able to launch this partnership to drive innovation and increase our impact in preventing and reducing obesity.”

The $4 million that the USDA has dedicated to funding the four centers as well as a National Coordination Center at the University of Kentucky is aimed at developing and extending a research-based approach to obesity prevention, ultimately producing measurable improvements in health, obesity, nutrition and physical activity-related outcomes. There are limitations on how EFNEP and SNAP-Ed funding can be used for research, so this is an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of those and similar programs, demonstrating that they are making a difference. One effort of the center could be to track EFNEP and SNAP-Ed participants for a longer period of time to track the lasting effects the programs have on their diets and lifestyles.

“Truly, this is a missing link,” Baker said. “We need to document that the behavior changes our participants make while involved in our programs continue into the future long-term.”

photo of food“Our goal is to reduce challenges and increase opportunities for low-income individuals, families, and households to make healthy eating and physical activity choices,” said WRNECE Co-Director Karen Barale of the Washington State University Extension.

The other three regional centers are based at Purdue University, Cornell University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

EFNEP was started throughout the nation in 1969 and is administered and implemented by 1862 and 1890 land-grant universities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and six U.S. territories.

SNAP-Ed was initiated nationally in 1992, began in Colorado in 1998 and is administered by participating state SNAP agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands. SNAP-Ed is delivered by nearly 100 implementing agencies, including land-grant universities in 47 states, public health departments, food banks, non-profit organizations and others.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

For more information, visit http://wrnece.colostate.edu/