March 11, 2004

Cornell Study Proves Need for Food Education

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A recent study by Cornell nutritional science researchers found that education in food selection and organization can help impoverished families have a sufficient amount of food to eat.

The study, published in Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, explained that in September 2000, 10.5 percent of U.S. households suffered from “food insecurity,” defined as “limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

Three Cornell faculty members, Prof. Jamie Dollahite, nutritional sciences, Prof. Christine Olson, nutritional sciences, and Michelle Scott-Pierce, an extension support specialist, led the study which was conducted through the New York State’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has been stationed at Cornell since 1969.

“Through Cornell Cooperative Extension’s involvement with the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Education Program, 30,788 individuals were directly provided with nutrition education messages about regional, seasonal produce,” the EFNEP website declares as an example of the work achieved.

Economists often stress that food insecurity is a result of simply economic restraints, and thus nutrition education does not play a role.

The findings may have disproved this theory, which would highlight the field’s priority for future research.

“The research is showing the value of the funding,” said Dr. Josephine Swanson, associate director of Cornell Cooperative Extension. “At the present time, the funding for this program is provided at the federal level, and I do know there is interest in maintaining this funding.”

16,146 people considered below the line of poverty from New York State participated in the study that spanned from 1999 to 2001.

The partakers attended educational classes focused on developing skills for, as the study articulated, “budgeting, comparing prices, using coupons, shopping with a grocery list, and planning meals ahead of time to decrease impulse buying.”

The researchers had them fill out an evaluation prior to the classes, after every six classes and when they completed the education that asked the question, “How often do you run out of food before the end of the month?”

On average, the participants reported that they ran out of food significantly less by the end of the month as they took the classes.

The study also examined how socioeconomic background and race played a role in people’s ability to improve from the education.

Whites and Hispanics were able to benefit more than Asians, and farm residents demonstrated no significant change.

Furthermore, small town residents showed more improvement than city residents, and those who were younger had more improvement than those who were older.

On March 2, EFNEP celebrated its 35th anniversary in Washington, D.C. and will have a second set of anniversary festivities at Cornell in June.

Swanson said that nutritional educators from throughout New York “will be coming to campus for professional development, training and to celebrate.”

Archived article by Amy Green