Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Advisor

Adrienne A. White

Second Committee Member

Kathryn Yerxa

Third Committee Member

Jason Bolton

Abstract

The goal of the study was to investigate indicators of food security, nutrition-related behavior, and food safety practices though assessing both intent to adopt beneficial kitchen practices and self-reported proficiency following volunteer-led Eat Well Volunteer (EWV) education. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s EWV Program was designed using resources guided by current research to reach limited resource Mainers with knowledge about nutritious, food-related behavior. Given the increased risk for nutrition-related health challenges, targeting nutrition education efforts toward the low-income population, like food pantry users, is warranted. Assessing food pantry users nutrition-related behavior following education is important in understanding the effect of education on this population. Before this study, the EWV program only occurred in the summer months focusing on fresh produce with no formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the program on food and nutrition-related behavior of participants.

Food pantry users were recruited from three food pantries in Maine: Safe Place Food Pantry and Holy Family Food Pantry (control group) and Bucksport Community Concerns Food Pantry (treatment group). Participants from the Bucksport pantry engaged in at least one of the monthly winter EWV nutrition education lessons run from January to April of 2016 and completed an intent survey post-education (n=98). Both treatment and control group participants completed a retrospective pre- and post-Behavior Checklist Questionnaire (BCQ), which included several de novo questions specific to the intervention. Control group participants (n=95, mean age=53.8±14.0) did not receive any EWV education and completed the BCQ on-site. Treatment group participants who received at least some EWV education were mailed the BCQ (n=41, mean age=47.41±13.7), which resulted in a return of 41 mailed BCQ’s yielding a 42% response rate.

Monthly intent survey responses for individual lessons were averaged to determine participant intent to perform various nutrition-related behavior over the next month related to the EWV education they received. Lesson topics focused on winter food pantry staples, including beans, rice, rolled oats, and meat. Overall, participants indicated a high intent, as represented by scores on the upper end of the scale (score range: 1=“unlikely” to 7=“likely”), for all items asked on the intent surveys.

Retrospective pre-and post-BCQ items were compared for control and treatment groups separately and together to assess for significant changes in food security, nutrition-related behavior, and food safety practices. Treatment group participants showed significant improvements in all three categories from pre- to post-test. Control group participants maintained behavior over the retrospective timeframe. Between groups there were no significant differences between categories. Participant dose of education was analyzed and did not have a significant effect on post-BCQ responses; however, the relationship may be worth exploring in future studies.

The development and evaluation of the winter EWV Program provides evidence of the positive impact nutrition-education has in the food-pantry setting on nutrition-related behavior of participants. Using trained volunteers to deliver nutrition education expands the reach of such programs. Further improving upon study methods to better assess participants’ actual behavior change may strengthen the EWV Program and other similar programs designed to target the food-insecure population.

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