UT to Spearhead Effort to Improve Eating Habits in Poorer Families, Children

UT to Spearhead Effort to Improve Eating Habits in Poorer Families, Children

The University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville received $1 million grant from the USDA to create a Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Center of Excellence to improve nutrition understanding and eating habits among low-income children and families.

The grant will be used to strengthen the efforts of two USDA programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), to improve health and counter obesity among low-income populations in Tennessee and neighboring states. The center, run by UT and its Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), will combine the knowledge and expertise of nine research institutions.

“We want to take what we’ve learned in Tennessee about childhood obesity prevention, and strengthen our outreach efforts across the country,” said UT Extension Assistant Dean Laura Stephenson, who leads its Family and Consumer Sciences Unit.

“This new center will focus the expertise of a broad network of professionals to develop a system where families can learn to make healthful food choices,” Dean Stephenson added. “Our goal is to decrease obesity and strengthen nutrition education efforts, and change the environment for families so adults will live healthier, and the children will develop good, life-long habits.”

One-third of all children in Tennessee are overweight and over 20% are obese, a condition associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and even poorer academic performance. Including adults, Tennessee’s overall obesity rate is 30%, making it the fourth worst state in the U.S. for obesity, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Tennessee center will concentrate efforts to reduce obesity by identifying emotional or physical boundaries to healthy living, and training and evaluation needs for partner agencies.

“Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “While we are beginning to see promising signs of progress with the epidemic leveling off in children, these grants will help evaluate and strengthen existing nutrition education and obesity prevention efforts to help ensure this progress continues.”

Utah State University is being funded to lead a similar project in the western United States.

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