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The Role of the Massachusetts Expanded Food and Nutrition Program in Promoting Food Security Among SNAP Participants and SNAP Eligibles

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Nutrition Dept.
Project Description: 

Food insecurity, or not having access at all times to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle, has been linked to a number of poor health outcomes, including low micronutrient intake, poor academic scores in children and adolescents, and overweight and obesity in adults. The federally-funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) program provides nutrition education to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and eligibles and other low-income families. EFNEP lessons include healthy eating and resource management skills that help EFNEP participants feel more confident they can use SNAP benefits and other household resources to provide healthful meals to their families. To date, there has been limited research into whether EFNEP improves the food security status of its participants, and little on the impact by various ethnic/cultural background. This project will explore dimensions and appropriate measurements of food security for use in nutrition education programs, and will include examining differences in food security perception, coping and language in multi-ethnic groups among Massachusetts EFNEP participants. The research will provide the basis for a complementary study on the impact of EFNEP on food security (a separate project). Massachusetts has a diverse EFNEP population and would benefit from better information about how and why members of different cultural and ethnic groups experience and manage food security. There is a need to determine what affects dimensions of food security in order to better plan programs that increase food security and even food spending and consumption, potentially lowering risk of obesity.

This research will address cultural tailoring of nutrition education programs intended to improve food security and nutrition of diverse cultures. The research will develop question(s) for measuring the impact of the resource management skills taught through EFNEP, and will set the framework for future validation of the question(s) in the context of EFNEP (through a separate research project). It will then further investigate cultural and ethnic differences in the language that is used to describe food security and the responses to household constraints that affect food purchasing. Finally, it will implement and evaluate a nutrition education program (potentially based on existing EFNEP curriculum) with a multicultural group of low income Massachusetts residents. The expected outcomes are that focus group information will be used to develop/adapt a nutrition education component that focuses on resource management and healthy dietary choices for low-income Massachusetts residents from multiple cultures/backgrounds. The component will then be tested with a group of culturally diverse low-income Massachusetts residents, and the expected outcomes from the test will be increased household food security and feelings of ability to manage household resources, and improved dietary choices among test participants.