Starkville Daily News - - FO­RUM -

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.”

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