In a state with some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the nation, health educators — including those with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture — know they’ve got their work cut out for them.
The Division of Agriculture has been participating in SNAP-Ed — education about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federally-funded program that helps feed millions of low-income families throughout the country — since the ’90s, said Rosemary Rodibaugh, an associate Family and Consumer Sciences department head and a professor of nutrition with the Division of Agriculture.
Every county in that state participates in the SNAP-Ed program and the 4H youth development program.
EFNEP (the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program), is in 16 counties and provides low-income individuals with knowledge and skills to maintain a safe and nutritious diet.
Nutrition classes for youth
During the summer months, several counties offer nutrition classes and cooking camps for youth.
“Our program grows a little bit every year,” Rodibaugh said. “We get small funding increases each year, which allows us to hire additional staff and reach more people with our nutrition education programs.”
In 2016, the division offered nutrition education programs in 234 schools and 59 counties, Rodibaugh said. SNAP-Ed programs were in 621 locations in all 75 Arkansas counties, according to the Division of Agriculture website.
Employees with the Division of Agriculture work with school lunch programs as well as in the classroom. Beyond working with youth, they also work with parents. Every program centers on improving health by teaching what to eat and how much while on a budget.
Woodruff County Cooperative Extension Service agent Leigh Bullington partners with ARcare, a health agency, to offer a diabetes cooking school, called Living Well with Diabetes. She also exhibits nutrition displays in areas where SNAP-eligible recipients would be such as at food pantries, housing authorities and senior living centers. These displays have different themes, such as the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and drinking more water.
Arkansas Rice Expo
Bullington also coordinates the recipe contest and food demonstrations at the Arkansas Rice Expo, which will be held Friday, Aug. 4, in Stuttgart this year. Bullington said she plans to focus on a Mediterranean rice and chicken soup known as “avgolemono” during a food preparation demonstration.
“Each year we develop a new recipe using rice,” Bullington said. “(Avgolemono) is a really good, healthy soup recipe. The Rice Expo is a good venue to reach out to people so that they see the nutritional things that we, at Extension, do.”
In late June, Miller County Cooperative Extension Service agent and staff chair Carla Hadley, along with other Southwest Arkansas Family and Consumer Sciences agents, organized the Teen Chef Academy, a week-long program that taught teens to prepare meals from scratch from a different menu each day. Hadley also engages in SNAP-Ed programs in a variety of settings including classrooms, workshops, businesses and laundromats, to name a few.
“Anywhere the individuals are located, we go to them,” Hadley said. “As Family and Consumer Science agents, we have the unique opportunity to address these issues by teaching individuals how to live healthier lives.”
Ashley County Cooperative Extension Service chair Iris Phifer goes to three schools, Crossett Elementary School, Portland Elementary School and Noble/Allbritton Elementary School, in her county monthly for seven months during the school years to teach about healthy eating. She also does Extension’s Yoga for Kids program in the schools.
Phifer said this has made an impact in her county.
In 2016, Phifer’s department sent 403 surveys to parents. The survey found that 66 percent of parents made changes to the family’s eating habit and 89 percent of children talk to parents about healthy foods. Fifty-nine percent of the parents who responded to the survey were more active as a result of what their children learned.
Ouachita County Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences agent Addie Wilson lets children taste a variety of foods they might not otherwise experience when she goes to schools.
“Sometimes the hindrance can be at home,” Wilson said. “A parent saying, ‘No, my child doesn’t like broccoli,’ or ‘We’re not going to buy it because they won’t eat it.’ We always give the kids a chance to taste those kinds of foods, so they can make the decision for themselves.”
“This is what we do in extension. We teach people to make better choices,” Rodibaugh said.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
— Meleah Perez is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.