Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed. They work with SNAP-Ed nutrition educators in county offices to help coordinate efforts to teach low-resource families ways to improve their diets, increase physical activity and manage their food resources.
“When Sylvia Byrd was hired as the director in 2015,
she brought a new attitude to the SNAP-Ed program,” said Willcutt, a Starkville native. “She didn’t just want us focused on education. She wanted to expand the efforts and implemented PSE – policy, systems and environment – all moving parts that work together. Policy influences the system, which changes the environment.”
For example, Willcutt said, if a school has a rule that says students can’t bring sugary treats to school for parties,
that’s a policy. So the school has to have a plan to implement the policy, which affects the system. In turn, the students are offered healthier snacks at parties, which makes a healthier environment.
“Fighting obesity is probably the hardest thing this state is going to have to do,” Willcutt said. “The problem isn’t going to be solved tomorrow, or next year or even five years from now. In my opinion, it may be 20 years away. In the
South, food is how you show love, and that’s usually high-fat, high-calorie comfort food. That mindset is hard to change.”
One way SNAP-Ed is hoping to make a difference is by partnering with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, which uses strategies to increase school lunch participation, improve consumption of healthy food and reduce food waste.
“It uses behavioral economics,” Willcutt said. “You
take the healthiest food and put it at the front of the lunch line, make it first, front and center. You make it appealing. You have posters in the lunchroom with pictures of fruits and vegetables. Children still get to make choices, but you’re just nudging them toward a healthier choice.”
This fall, SNAP-Ed hopes to offer a free six-week program for adults called Cooking Matters, where limitedresource participants will learn
to navigate a grocery store and to cook easy, healthful, low-cost meals.
“This is a full-on fight at every corner at every level,” Willcutt said. “Our logic model is to get the kids when they’re young – mostly in elementary schools – but we hope to expand and work with them as they grow. We’re not just going after elementary students, but their parents and caregivers, too. It won’t work if the adults don’t buy in.”