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Alameda County’s bilingual nutrition educator models effective adult education

The Issue

Alameda County is one of the most diverse counties in California, with over 30 languages spoken among 111,000 households on public assistance. Over 156,000 county residents live in poverty, and at least 25 percent are children at risk of food insecurity, poor nutrition and obesity. The largest ethnic minority groups are Hispanics, African Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders. The number of low-income, Spanish-speaking families attending health education programs is on the rise. The county’s need for nutrition educators who are culture-, literacy-, and language-sensitive is even more evident today than 43 years ago when the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) was piloted at UCCE Alameda in 1988–1989. Low graduation rates, however, have been a problem.

What Has ANR Done?

Alameda County educators rely on interpersonal skills and instructional art to raise program graduation rates and bring about nutritional behavior change. These educators 1) deliver a curriculum that is science-based, language- and literacy-sensitive, family centered and user-friendly; 2) arrange class time and place so it is most convenient for parents of young children; 3) use the expertise of family advocates to recruit and organize; 4) create a positive environment using peer education techniques; 5) share personal food and nutrition stories; 6) keep the classroom interesting with hands-on activities; 7) demonstrate favorite recipes to teach about protein, vegetables, food safety; 8) are sensitive to personal needs like childcare; 9) plan next-class makeups for absences; 10) use appropriate music from countries of origin to acknowledge culture; 11) show appreciation to parents for their participation and contributions; and 12) make program graduation a very special occasion.

The Payoff

Nutrition educator achieves great success with monolingual parents

Nutrition educators who conduct adult education in the community are uniquely positioned to model client-centered approaches to good nutrition. Bilingual educator Nelly Camacho of Alameda County has used a science-based curriculum to achieve high rates of program graduation and nutrition behavior change among poor, low-literate, monolingual populations. The 2006–2012 average graduation rate was 97.01 percent. Acceptable behaviors of 2011 graduates increased 74 percent in nutrition, 35 percent in money management, and 168 percent in food safety. For 2012, increases in acceptable behaviors were even higher.


Supporting Unit: Alameda County

Mary L. Blackburn, NFCS Advisor, UCCE Alameda County, (510) 639-1274