Nutrition Education Program Serves Low-Income Families

SEATTLE, Wash. — This week marks the 30th anniversary of a federally-funded program to
help limited resource youth and families with children improve the quality of their daily diets by
teaching them the essentials of nutrition education. Administered by Washington State
University, the Extension Family and Nutrition Education Program serves 3,000 low-income
families per year.
Since its inception in 1969, EFNEP has served 75,000 adults and 60,000 youth in the state of
Washington. The program operates in King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Yakima counties.
WSU nutrition education assistants help families, especially those with young children ages nine
to 18, learn about nutrients in food and about shopping for the most nutritious food at the least
Extension education assistants recruit and work with limited income clients through referrals
from agencies, food banks, programs such as Head Start, the Washington State Department of
Social and Health Services, homeless shelters or public schools.
“As people improve their nutritional status, they report that the lessons they have learned
have touched their lives in other ways,” said WSU Extension Nutritionist Sue Butkus. “Some
people are inspired to go back to school, others to get jobs. It appears that about 10-15 percent
of the program participants actually change their lives after enrolling in the program. In 1998, four
percent of EFNEP participants returned to school, and 12 percent found new jobs.”
Annual program statistics underscore the success of the program in Washington State
alone. Nutrition education assistants report improvements by enrolled families in consumption of
milk, fruits, and vegetables and their ability to stretch their food dollars further. Other benefits of
the program include increased self-sufficiency; knowledge of food safety; meal planning;
budgeting of foods; improved diets and health for infants and preschoolers, school-age children,
teenagers and pregnant women; and enhanced knowledge of nutritious diets.
“Young families often lack not only nutrition knowledge, but also food shopping and
preparation skills, job-related skills, money management abilities and parenting skills,” Butkus
said. EFNEP now employs eight extension education assistants in King County and five in
Snohomish County, supervised by Washington State University faculty and staff.
A profile of current participants in Washington State reveals that 51 percent of EFNEP
enrollees are minorities (28 percent Hispanic, 8 percent African American, 8 percent Asian or
Pacific Islander, and 6 percent Native American). Ninety-five percent of the families served have
incomes at or below the poverty level. Eighty-six percent of the enrolled families have three or
fewer children, and 54 percent of the children are five years old or younger.