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SNAP-Ed: Our Expanded Focus

By Jamie Bain, Extension educator — Health and Nutrition

Previous blog posts have addressed the differences between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and SNAP Education (SNAP-Ed). SNAP-Ed helps people with limited financial resources make healthy food choices and become more physically active.

This week I'd like to talk about SNAP-Ed's expanded focus to include activities that match levels of the entire Spectrum of Prevention. Extension's Health and Nutrition programs have been able to broaden their SNAP-Ed focus because of new funding guidelines from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which encourage programming along the entire spectrum.

The Spectrum of Prevention is a tool that provides a comprehensive framework for addressing major public health issues. Designed by the Prevention Institute (based in Oakland, CA), the spectrum looks at an issue, such as obesity or food access, in a holistic manner. The spectrum includes six levels of activity that, when used together, make a bigger impact than implementing only a single activity.

The Spectrum of Prevention was originally developed by Larry Cohen in 1983 while working as director of prevention programs at the Contra Costa County Health Department. It is based on the work of Marshall Swift (1975) in preventing developmental disabilities. For more information on the Spectrum of Prevention, please visit Prevention Institute.

Before 2014, SNAP-Ed programming in Minnesota focused mostly on the bottom two levels of the Spectrum of Prevention. With this focus you may have seen SNAP-Ed educators teaching a series of nutrition classes in a school or community setting. Or maybe you saw a SNAP-Ed educator hosting a table at a school or community event with a fun game or a cooking demonstration.

Since the 2014 change in SNAP-Ed funding guidelines, we've been working hard to expand our SNAP-Ed programming in Minnesota to address each level of the Spectrum of Prevention. Although we still recognize that the bottom two levels of the spectrum are a vital part to our work with Minnesota communities, we now also try to look at the big picture and think about how to achieve SNAP-Ed goals by influencing policy, systems, and environmental change (the top four levels).

To see the spectrum in action, following are a few examples of how SNAP-Ed educators could be working through collaborative efforts with others to address each level of the spectrum in schools throughout Minnesota:

Strengthening Individual Knowledge and Skills: SNAP-Ed educators teach nutrition and cooking classes to parents and other youth caregivers.

Promoting Community Education: SNAP-Ed educators host tables at school conferences where they conduct quick lessons for parents and youth caregivers on how to make healthy snacks for children. Educators also give parents and caregivers handouts with fun, easy, and healthy recipes they can try at home.

Educating Providers: SNAP-Ed educators train school foodservice staff on how to cook meals with reduced sodium, as well as how to serve fruits and vegetables in ways that appeal to students.

Fostering Coalitions and Networks: SNAP-Ed educators serve with parents, students, teachers, administrative staff, and school foodservice staff on wellness committees, where they collaborate on creating a healthier school environment.

Changing Organizational Practices: SNAP-Ed educators implement the "grab-n-go" option of USDA's school breakfast program at schools throughout Minnesota; the option provides students with a healthy breakfast in a bag that they can eat on the go.

Influencing Policy and Legislation: Through wellness committees (noted earlier), SNAP-Ed educators and others influence and help enforce school wellness policies, which set guidelines on actions to create a healthier school environment. Actions might include adding healthy food options to breakfast and lunch menus or removing unhealthy snacks and drinks from vending machines.

As you can see, changes in SNAP-Ed funding guidelines have allowed us to expand our work in Minnesota school and community settings to help low-income people make healthier food choices and increase their physical activity.

To see how our SNAP-Ed programs work at all levels of the Spectrum of Prevention to help people "make the healthy choice the easy choice" in a school setting, watch our 3-minute "Schoolhouse Broc-coli!" video:
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