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Extension > Source - Fall 2006 > Just how big is one serving?

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Just how big is one serving?

Extension's nutrition educators help Minnesotans eat better and feel better

When Julie arrived at her nutrition class in St. Cloud, she had a fast-food bag in one hand and a supersized soda in the other. The evening's topic, taught by a University of Minnesota Extension Service nutrition education assistant, was a comparison of the nutrition of a fast-food restaurant meal to a meal prepared at home. Julie was surprised. As she continued to attend classes, Julie arrived with smaller sodas, and even brought a bottle of water one evening. She was drinking more milk after learning about the risk of osteoporosis. And she began eating breakfast more often. Julie is on her way to better health, thanks to Extension's Nutrition Education Programs.

Fat Comparisons

Fat grams are more than a number on a label when represented by wax models. These wax props help children learn about fat content in different kinds of milk

Julie is not alone. Last year the University of Minnesota Extension Service reached more than 45,000 low-income Minnesotans with programs to promote healthy eating and food budget management. For more than 30 years, the University has partnered with Minnesota counties to deliver nutrition education for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

"I'm often asked why the University of Minnesota is involved with hands-on nutrition education," says Sue Letourneau, Extension nutrition program director. "The answer is simple. We take the most current peer-reviewed research, turn it into effective learning tools, and deliver it in practical ways to the people who need it the most. Extension is in a unique position to do that."

Extension's Nutrition Education Programs serve many audiences, from preschoolers to senior citizens, and take many shapes: classes, social marketing campaigns, seminars for professionals and service providers, newsletters, and one-on-one coaching. Visual activities are often the most effective-for example, using sugar cubes to show the amount of sugar in a bottle of pop or paraffin-filled test tubes to demonstrate the amount of fat in various foods.

Nutrition programs may be found in a wide variety of community settings across Minnesota, including food shelves, WIC clinics, senior centers, child-care centers, charter schools, summer camps, low-income housing and grocery stores.

The heart and soul of Extension's programs are the nutrition education assistants (NEAs) who deliver the services. These are not your typical academics. Rather, they are Minnesotans-neighbors helping neighbors- dedicated to teaching people in their communities about healthy eating and food budget management. Although their backgrounds and experiences may be different, their stories are very similar. Marilyn Boettcher, a recently retired NEA in Nicollet County, ran into the very first person she taught when she started working for Extension in 1994. The woman had been in an abusive marriage, had had little money, and had lived in a trailer in an isolated area. Today, the woman has turned her life around. She is remarried, has a good job and is no longer using food stamps. The woman told Boettcher that she still follows the practices for shopping on a budget and cooking healthy meals that Boettcher taught her 12 years ago. Boettcher is proud that the nutrition education she provided had a lifelong impact.

The importance of nutrition education is also reflected in the story of Annette Shepardson, a new NEA in Winona County (pictured on the cover). Shepardson remembers when she was 18, a new mom and very overweight. Struggling to make ends meet, she received nutrition education that helped change her eating habits and her life. She learned how to eat healthier foods, lost weight and kept it off. Now, as an NEA, she can help low-income families make similar changes. "Nutrition really did make a difference in my life, so I am passionate about doing the same for others," says Shepardson. "I'm thrilled to be in this job."

Extension's Nutrition Education Programs also have economic impact. A 2003 Centers for Disease Control study showed that 23 percent of adult Minnesotans are obese and an additional 38 percent are overweight. The burden due to obesity is estimated at $31 billion annually. The good news, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is that for every $1 spent on nutrition education, $10.64 in healthcare costs is saved. Families save $2.68 for every $1 spent-money that can be put back in the local economy to buy clothes, durable goods and other necessities.

For more information on Extension's Nutrition Education Programs, call 612-625-8260 or see

Extension's nutrition education assistants, like Nicollet County's Marilyn Boettcher, counsel families on shopping habits and healthy cooking

Good nutrition makes a difference-years of research say it does.

Children who eat breakfast are better learners; adults who eat well are more productive at work; good nutrition keeps seniors in their homes longer and reduces medical bills. In short, the better we eat, the better we feel and live.

Meet Rita Colchin, NEA, Dakota County

Rita Colchin came to the United States 28 years ago from Ecuador. She was a stay-at-home mom until 1998, when she answered an Extension ad for a person who spoke Spanish and was familiar with Hispanic cultures. Colchin works hard to help clients of many cultures eat and live healthfully. She is especially aware of the challenges for immigrants when it comes to different foods offered in the United States and other countries. For example, most Hispanic, Somali and Hmong refugees have never eaten peanut butter and do not know of its value as a protein. Elsewhere, chocolate, pop and candy are expensive and hard to come by, but they're inexpensive and far more common in the United States. Easy access creates unhealthy weight gain. Colchin says her mission is to "encourage folks of Hispanic cultures to fry less, drink less soda and walk more."

Rita Colchin, nutrition education assistant, uses food samples and the food pyramid to teach Hispanic seniors about healthy portions.

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