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Investments in EFNEP Pay Big Dividends, Now and in the Future

Posted by Scott Elliott, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Food and Nutrition
Mar 30, 2016
Woman shopping at supermarket
EFNEP teaches program participants about nutrition, food safety, how to stretch their food shopping dollars. (iStock image)

What would you think of a deal with a potential return-on-investment of up to 10-to-1?  But wait, there’s more… now, add the potential to save some serious money on future medical bills.  Too good to be true, right?  Not so.

EFNEP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Expanded Food, Nutrition, and Education Program, has consistently proven its ability to improve the health and well-being of low income families and youth.  The program teaches participants how to improve their diets, be more physically active, stretch their food dollars, and increase their knowledge of food safety.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) manages EFNEP and in 2015 provided nearly $68 million in funding to 75 land-grant universities (LGUs).  The LGUs, in turn, sent EFNEP peer educators into communities to provide hands-on evidence-based learning opportunities to more than 119,000 adults and nearly 378,000 children, and indirectly reached more than 340,000 family members. EFNEP is available in more than 800 counties in all 50 states, six U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

“Research shows that better health is associated with reduced health care costs, less absenteeism from work, and less dependence on emergency food assistance,” said Stephanie Blake, program coordinator in NIFA’s Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition.

According to an analysis by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, $1 spent on the adult EFNEP program produced a benefit equivalent to $10.96.  Other results differed, ranging from Oregon’s $3.62 benefit per $1, to Iowa’s $12.50 benefit per $1, but all point to significant programmatic value.  A New York analysis in 2008 showed a program cost of $892 per graduate and a cost effectiveness ratio of $20,863 per quality adjusted life year (QALY).  QALY is a measure that takes into account both the quantity and quality of life generated by healthcare interventions. So, EFNEP isn’t just making a difference in the lives of individuals and families reached, it also has public value.

EFNEP national coordinators met in Arlington, Va., March 14-17 for their annual conference to find ways that could strengthen and improve the program’s benefits for the low-income population that EFNEP serves.

“A key session this year was the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines,” said Dr. Helen Chipman, national program leader for food and nutrition education in NIFA’s Division of Nutrition.  “This session was of particular importance given EFNEP’s role in improving the diets of EFNEP participants.”

Other conference sessions included emphasizing the physical activity part of nutrition EFNEP education programming and a nutrition response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

“EFNEP benefits the greater society,” Blake said.  “EFNEP is a great example of USDA working with land-grant university partners to unite research and extension and improve the health and well-being of this nation.”

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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