Helping Low-Income Families Eat Healthier

A retired caregiver enjoys a meal while attending a SNAP-Ed class on heart-healthy nutrition at the Glendale Adult Center. (Photo courtesy of UA Cooperative Extension)
A retired caregiver enjoys a meal while attending a SNAP-Ed class on heart-healthy nutrition at the Glendale Adult Center. (Photo courtesy of UA Cooperative Extension)

More than 1 million adults and children in Arizona do not have enough money for groceries. They shop with food stamps. They buy staples like bread, beans and milk. Fresh fruits and veggies seem like a luxury they cannot afford.

Through a program known as SNAP-Ed, they learn how to buy healthier foods on a limited budget. They're learning to choose low-fat dairy products, whole-grain breads and tortillas, fresh in-season produce – and to cook with easy healthy recipes. They're also encouraged to increase physical activity.

The goal is to help low-income people buy the food they need for good health – and ultimately reduce obesity – the gateway to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In Maricopa County 22.9 percent of adults are obese and 30 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are either overweight or obese.

SNAP-Ed stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, formerly known as the food stamp program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP-Ed is implemented in Arizona by the state's Arizona Nutrition Network and University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, serving eight counties to date.

Guiding adults to make healthy choices

Near the end of last year, SNAP-Ed changed its primary focus from in-school programs to adults. The reason is simple: Adults make the food choices in the home.

"If we really want to change behavior, we have to get to the parents and other adults making choices for kids," said Stephanie Martinez of the UA's Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. She supervises the SNAP-Ed program in the state's largest metropolitan area.

So how do you reach adults who use food stamps? You go to emergency food sources like St. Mary's and United Food Banks; public housing projects like the Tanner Terrace; the Department of Economic Security; the Women, Infants and Children program, plus parent organizations at schools.

It's not easy. But it is effective.

"We tailor the program to each site, offering different levels of service. We want them to see as many messages, as often as possible, everywhere they go," Martinez said.

Approaches vary because the population ranges from 20-something new parents, to 45-year olds recently laid off from longtime jobs, to seniors with limited mobility.

On any given day, the SNAP-Ed team could deliver posters and fliers, give10-minute talks at the Department of Economic Security and distribute take-home goodie bags with shopping tips and recipe cards – or present an hour-long class at a senior housing complex.

Read the rest of this July 1, 2013 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Jul 9 2013
Contact: 
Stephanie Martinez