Focusing on what works: SNAP-Ed Shows Positive Impact among Georgia’s Low-Income Families

Happy family grocery shopping for healthy food

One of the core program initiatives at HealthMPowers, SNAP-Ed, was recently highlighted in a new study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science, pointing to the program’s effectiveness. The study was a collaboration between the Public Health Institute’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition and four universities across the Southeast, including our own University of Georgia, and represents the single largest regional quantitative study of SNAP-Ed program outcomes.

SNAP-Ed, a federal program administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services through state agencies in partnership with select community and academic institutions, seeks to improve the likelihood that SNAP recipients are empowered to make healthy food and lifestyle choices within a limited budget that prevent obesity. SNAP-Ed integrates strategies around nutrition and physical activity education as well as policy, systems and environmental (PSE) changes at the school and community-level to foster access to healthy foods and opportunities to be physically active.

The new study findings point to promising results,  including low-income families and children consuming more fruits and vegetables and improvements in nutrition and shopping behaviors, complemented by over 700 PSE changes across the eight- state Southeastern region. As indicated by the study, the collective impact of SNAP-Ed efforts across the Southeast as part of the research has the potential to positively impact nearly 1 million SNAP families, empowering more access to and consumption of healthy food.

And here in Georgia, HealthMPowers was right in the middle of this work. We’re implementing SNAP-Ed programming across the state in a robust manner, centering child and family health. Working with nearly 280 sites annually, our partners include K-12 schools, early care centers, out of school time sites and community organizations and events all across Georgia. This mix of partners, or health heroes as we affectionately call them, represent the primary network players surrounding a child and allows us to work in service of HealthMPowers guiding theory of change – providing consistent messages and opportunities to empower children to eat healthy and be active at school, at home and in the community.

Here are a few success stories of how HealthMPowers has leveraged SNAP-Ed programming to impact children across the state:

  • In Habersham County in the beautiful north Georgia mountains, the Habersham Head Start Center successfully launched a “Books Up, Screen Down” program to encourage physical activity. Building off an ongoing partnership between HealthMPowers, which provided training, curriculum and data to evaluate efforts to limit screen time, the center was ultimately able to evolve the initiative from beyond the center walls to include parent leadership as well! The most recent “Books Up, Screens Down” initiative was championed by parents who organized around a book and theme and incorporated home and school activities to reinforce the practice. Interactive active activities were strategically planned to encourage physical activity. Now, screen time breaks are embraced as part of an official policy at the center, as well as ongoing efforts to share tips and tricks for parents to minimize screen time and encourage physical activity at home.
  • At the innovative McClure Health Science High School in Gwinnett County, students isolated at home during the spring and summer due to closures spurred by the pandemic were welcomed back with an intentional focus on their physical and mental health. HealthMPowers staff provide ongoing technical support and have worked hand-in-hand with the school’s leadership to offer unique activities to encourage connection, activity and wellness. Students can join the principal after testing for exercise to shake off anxiety, have access to Fitbits to encourage activity and goalsetting and experience daily modeling from administrators and their Student Health Advocate peers, a unique youth leadership program offered by HealthMPowers, on what a healthy lifestyle includes.
  • And in Bibb County in central Georgia, finding fresh, locally grown produce can be difficult as the area is designated a food desert. In response, HealthMPowers collaborated with Community Health Works, Wholesome Wave Georgia, the Georgia Fresh for Less program, and The Mulberry Market to increase access to affordable, fresh food. SNAP-eligible shoppers at the farmers market are welcome with a comprehensive approach that doubles the value of their SNAP allocation to make their dollars stretch farther, receive nutrition education, recipes and taste test demonstrations from HealthMPowers and deliver a one-two- punch of support for local farmers who gain access to more clients and SNAP shoppers who have a convenient location to buy locally grown, fresh food on a budget.

And this is just a snapshot of the work. The new data from the Center for Wellness is simply another piece of evidence informing and pointing to the effectiveness of our work, and we are hungry for more. As the pandemic takes hold, we’re pivoting to meet the need to ensure our programming remains effective and impactful – and reaches those who need it most. We’re launching interactive tools and trainings, resourcing partners and prioritizing feedback to inform how we shape and deliver programs and services to meet the need. And we’re looking for opportunities to make sure the pandemic does not perpetuate poor nutrition among our most vulnerable children. Health and wellness have never been more important. We are both grateful for the opportunity to serve the state’s low-income families through innovative SNAP-Ed programming, but also rightfully challenged to continue to push ourselves to be more effective in achieving more aggressive outcomes to tackle Georgia’s childhood obesity epidemic head-on.