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Community Nutrition Educators


Early food-related research in the United States focused on improving food crops and animal husbandry for human food. By the early 1900s, researchers began to focus on the importance of food quality, rather than just quantity. Rising levels of poverty and concerns about the poor health of a significant percentage of the U.S. population prompted researchers to emphasize the nutritional benefits of food and the federal government to focus more on providing both food and nutrition education to those in need.

In 1939, the First Food Stamp Program (FSP) was initiated. It allowed poor Americans to purchase discounted food that was deemed surplus by the federal government. “Over the course of nearly four years [until the program ended in 1943], the first FSP reached approximately 20 million people at one time or another in nearly half of the counties in the United States, [and] peak participation was 4 million,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1964, the Food Stamp Act was passed by Congress as a permanent way to strengthen the agricultural economy and improve levels of nutrition among low-income households. (The program’s name was changed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in the 2008 Farm Bill). In 1981, nutrition education, known as SNAP-Education (SNAP-Ed) was established as an optional program in the states. Today, SNAP-Ed is offered in all states. People in the program learn about proper nutrition, how to be physically fit, and how to make their food dollars stretch further.

Another federal program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program was launched in 1969 to improve diet quality and physical activity, improve food resource management, and increase food safety and security for underserved populations. Today, approximately 200,000 low-income adults and 450,000 low-income youth in rural and urban communities in all states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia participate in the program.

Finally, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) was established as a pilot program in 1972 (and made permanent in 1974) by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA to “safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” The Food and Nutrition Service reports that the programs serves about half of the infants in the United States.

Many community nutrition educators are employed by these and other federal nutrition and wellness programs, but they also work for state and local agencies, religious and civic groups, food banks, tribal nations, home health care agencies, and colleges and universities, among other employers. Demand is growing for educators as food and nutrition insecurity increases in many areas of the United States and in other countries.

“Nutrition insecurity is a significant national health concern, especially among low-income populations that disproportionately experience poor health,” according to the National Institute of Food & Agriculture. “Often associated with food insecurity [the lack access to sufficient amounts of food due to limited financial resources], nutrition insecurity is characterized by poor nutrition, limited physical activity, and unsafe food practices.”

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