OSU teaches food security to Oregon's hungry

March 17, 2003

CORVALLIS - Oregon tops the nation in hunger, a distinction that Gov. Ted Kulongoski has called a "shame that no Oregonian wants or would allow to continue."

As part of the battle against hunger, the Oregon State University Extension Service has developed nutrition education programs to help struggling families keep food on the table.

"The word 'hunger' is familiar to people, but it is not the whole story," said Ellen Schuster, nutritionist at OSU Extension Family and Community Development Program. "Food security means that people have access to enough nutritious, affordable and acceptable food through non-emergency sources."

Food security fails when limited resources don't make it to the end of the month. Children are hit hard, said Schuster, who says one in four children in Oregon lives in a household without food security.

Nearly 6 percent of Oregon residents, twice the national average, report that they do not have enough to eat for reasons beyond their control, according to a recent report by the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University.

Almost 14 percent of Oregon residents lack enough money to meet basic nutritional needs.

These are the people the OSU Extension nutrition education programs aim to reach. In 2002, these programs reached nearly 225,000 people in 17 counties, including a Hispanic Extension office in Multnomah County and an Indian reservation Extension office at Warm Springs.

Through classes, workshops, displays, and newsletters, low-income families learn to manage their food dollars wisely, prepare food safely, and make healthy food choices.

In the long run, nutrition education saves money for Oregon. A cost-benefit analysis by OSU researchers determined that for every $1 invested to improve adult nutrition behaviors, one can expect a savings of $3.63 in future health care costs.

The Extension programs teach budgeting, menu planning and comparison shopping to help families manage their limited resources. Families learn how to use labels to select nutritious, low-cost foods, and how to plan so they are less likely to run out of food. Youth learn healthy food habits early and many share what they learn with their families.

Programs engage people in a variety of ways. For example:

In Hood River, the Super Market Tours program demonstrates healthy food choices for diabetes prevention. One Spanish-speaking client responded, "So that's why I see Anglo people standing in the aisles staring at the backs of packages."

In Portland, the Food as Fuel curriculum gives middle school students hands-on experience putting the Food Pyramid to work, then sharing the meal they have just prepared. Three-quarters of the students in the class had no shared mealtime at home. One remarked, "I don't remember us ever eating together except at Thanksgiving."

In Lincoln County, young people visit the farmers' market and try new foods to add to their diets. Using fresh local produce, students create their own special dishes, and collect the recipes in a cookbook.

These nutrition education programs have had measurable effects. After a series of classes, adult participants responded that:

  • 62 percent use Nutrition Facts label more often to make healthier food choices;
  • 44 percent don't run out of food by the end of the month;
  • 27 percent of their children eat breakfast more often.

Youth responded that:

  • 81 percent are now able to choose low cost, nutritious foods;
  • 84 percent have improved the way they prepare and store food;
  • 78 percent now eat a variety of food;
  • 71 percent know more about nutrition.
Author: Peg Herring
Source: Ellen Schuster