PERSPECTIVES Winter 2000: A Feast of Information
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A Feast of Information

or 30 years, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) has been working to help North Carolinians with limited resources meet their own nutritional needs.

Administered by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, EFNEP has evolved to meet the needs of a changing society, but the goal of better nutrition has never changed. Originally aimed at adults who prepared food, today’s program also targets limited-resource youths, pregnant teens and nursing mothers.

In county centers across the state, 80 Extension program assistants work with adults, and 17 work with youth ages 5 to 19. They are located where the needs are greatest and where counties demonstrate a commitment to the program, according to Susan Baker, state coordinator of EFNEP, based in the department of family and consumer sciences at N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"If you look at Extension’s mission, nowhere is it better interpreted than in EFNEP, which strives to serve our neediest customers," Baker said.

When EFNEP began in 1969, it targeted adults who received federal assistance for food. Assistance alone did not address recipients’ nutritional needs, and EFNEP’s purpose was to provide that missing link through nutrition education. Working in individuals’ homes, EFNEP program assistants taught people how to purchase food and prepare nutritious meals within their budgets.

Today, EFNEP does fewer home visits, preferring to provide education through established groups, such as Head Start parents and other community groups. Working together, EFNEP and its partner organizations can meet multiple needs of group members in one setting.

While EFNEP originally targeted only adults, similar programs were offered to youth in the program’s second year. Through community groups and after-school programs, EFNEP has worked to provide nutrition education for youth. "We can be the threshold kids use to get to Extension, and from there we can lead them to more traditional 4-H programs," she said.

In addition, summer nutrition camps were offered in 11 counties across the state last summer. The programs were so successful, parents asked for additional sessions to be offered in the fall. The camps even spawned new 4-H clubs in some counties.

Nutrition camps were based on different themes, including "Blast Off with Nutrition!" "Fuel Your Engines with Proper Nutrition!" and "What Does a Pyramid Have to Do with Nutrition?" In some camps, programs were led by youth, following a traditional 4-H leadership model. In Wake County, camp leaders reported that the opportunity for leadership was a boost to the self esteem of teens who are not often taken seriously. "This program gave these teenagers a chance to be leaders, to be respected and appreciated."

Pregnant and parenting teens are another group that has been targeted by EFNEP education in the past 30 years. The program is not offered for this group everywhere but has been a special mission for some EFNEP program assistants. "This is voluntary on the part of program assistants, but those involved are very committed to it," Baker said.

Many pregnant teens suddenly find themselves on their own, with little or no food preparation skills, limited resources and big nutritional needs to nurture a healthy baby. The program focuses on teaching teens about their own nutritional needs. By learning to prepare and eat nutritious meals and snacks, these soon-to-be parents will be meeting the nutritional needs of their unborn babies.

The curriculum content is similar to that of EFNEP programs delivered to adults, but the delivery is different. Young moms-to-be, for instance, may prepare a nutritious snack to eat while watching a video, called "Inside My Mom," describing fetal development. The activity is fun for teens, yet the lessons are all there: food preparation, nutrition and prenatal development.

ine years ago, Baker helped launch another new EFNEP initiative — in-home support for breastfeeding mothers in Wake County. The county was concerned with reducing the high rate of breastfeeding failure among new moms in the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

At the time, the support program was harder to sell within Extension because breastfeeding education was not perceived as nutrition education. Since that time the In-Home Breastfeeding Support Program has expanded to 33 counties.

The population served by the program varies across the state, depending on the source of funding. In each case, program assistants trained to support breastfeeding visit new mothers in the hospital and again when they return home. The program assistants offer support and encouragement and are available by pager to advise mothers when they have questions or problems. They also can assist mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

The program has proven successful in helping new mothers extend the length of time they nurse their babies. The national average for mothers nursing babies at six weeks is 17 percent; in North Carolina that figure is close to 50 percent.

EFNEP’s original slogan was "Better-Fed Families." Today, EFNEP continues working toward that goal, assisting families in homeless shelters and in prisons, as well as assisting the working poor, those leaving welfare for work.

"Most people we enroll don’t have basic food preparation skills, and we teach them how to make a meal that will meet their basic nutritional needs and that their family will enjoy," Baker said. "We help them with life skills."

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