Health & Wellness Science & Technology Society & Culture

UGA receives $1.7 million USDA grant to improve nutrition in Georgia

  Jung Sun Lee  

Athens, Ga. – A team of University of Georgia researchers, led by a faculty member in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has received a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the nutritional habits of low-income Georgians.

The researchers’ goal is to help Georgians eligible for SNAP benefits—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—establish healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle through evidence-based, behaviorally focused and culturally appropriate nutrition education and obesity prevention interventions.

“We have a great need for this type of program in the state of Georgia, and we have a capacity to meet that need,” said Jung Sun Lee, an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition who serves as principal investigator on the grant.

With so many Georgia residents facing persistent poverty and the associated health risks, Lee said she’s optimistic about the potential for the SNAP-Education program to affect real change.

“Food insecurity, people having problems getting the type and amount of food they need, exists in this nation, but it’s hidden and not many people think it’s actually happening,” Lee said. “In all indicators, Georgia always ranks poorly (in obesity and chronic disease statistics). We definitely need to think about what are the barriers that prevent Georgians from healthy eating. We hope we can change these issues.”

Faculty and students from four colleges and five departments within UGA will be involved in the grant, including the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the College of Education, the Grady College of Journalism and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, as well as UGA Extension.

The SNAP-Ed plan involves four projects:
• Expanding the existing Food Talk curriculum, which was developed at UGA by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program staff, to include direct, face-to-face nutrition education in Fulton and Clarke counties that will reach 600 SNAP-Ed eligible adults via UGA Extension and peer educators.

“These are people recruited from the community who represent our target population and know what they need and know the issues and barriers to maintaining healthy eating,” Lee said of the peer educators.

• Launching Food eTalk, an interactive, online nutrition education program tailored to the specific needs of SNAP-Ed eligible adults that will deliver web and mobile-based programming across the state.

Food eTalk, still under development by faculty in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the College of Education and set to launch in March, will include six modules and feature interactive games and videos that reinforce nutrition education.

• Targeting nutrition and physical activity in young children through the Healthy Child Care Georgia program. Based in Clarke County, the program is a multi-level intervention under the direction of Caree Cotwright, an assistant professor of foods and nutrition, and Diane Bales, an Extension specialist and associate professor of human development and family science.

The program will include direct instruction to as many as 12 child care centers in Clarke County that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

• Developing a vast social media and marketing intervention that aims to reach about 26,000 SNAP-eligible adult Georgians in the state’s 159 counties.

This portion of the project will be directed by faculty in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and will include print materials delivered statewide and distributed online to target audiences.

The project also involves geographic information system analysis conducted by Jerry Shannon in the Franklin College department of geography. This comprehensive food and physical activity environmental scan will be used to develop strategies to recruit SNAP-Ed eligible individuals and identify types and numbers of food resources available in the participants’ neighborhoods, Lee said.

Co-principal investigators on the project are Cotwright, Bales, Joe Phua in the Grady College and Shannon and Ikseon Choi with the College of Education. The College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ Debbie Murray, associate dean for extension and outreach, is the project director; and faculty member Judy Hibbs is the program coordinator.

SNAP-Ed staff involved in the project are Elizabeth Charron and Austin Childers, along with graduate student Sarah Stotz from the foods and nutrition department.