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UNC-NC State partnership to focus on obesity prevention

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University have forged a new partnership to help nutritional assistance services improve their obesity prevention efforts for families receiving federal nutrition subsidies. Through the collaboration, UNC will house one of four new Regional Centers of Excellence in Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention.

The center, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will work with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP,  a federally funded nutrition education program offered by Cooperative Extension) to pool their resources and develop and evaluate innovative strategies to help people eligible for these government subsidies make healthy choices within a limited budget.

“Until now, EFNEP and SNAP-Ed have largely worked in parallel to reduce obesity in low-income populations, but the focus of this center will be to better coordinate efforts, enhance intervention approaches and assess impact,” said Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and professor of nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. “We will be able to gain valuable insights by working together and strengthen the impact of all our activities to improve the health of children and families.”

Ammerman will lead the center with co-director Lorelei Jones, coordinator of North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s nutrition education program at NC State. The obesity prevention research expertise at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and the program expertise and community knowledge at NC State will drive the $856,250 project, which will rely  on building strong collaborative relationships between state and county teams in 13 southern states and two territories to extend the programs’ outreach and impacts.

“This is an exciting opportunity to put research into practice, to translate the research to community educational programs that prevent obesity and improve the lives of families served by SNAP-Ed and EFNEP across the region,” Jones said.

The southern regional center will administer a coordinated regional research project through mini-grants given to selected SNAP-Ed and EFNEP agencies within the region. All agencies will be eligible to apply for the grants. The center will also test innovative intervention ideas developed by community partners.

Colorado State University, Cornell University and Purdue University serve as the other regional centers. The University of Kentucky will serve as the national coordinating center for the program.

“This new center provides an exciting opportunity to achieve HPDP’s core mission to support high quality research in vulnerable populations,” said Ammerman. “We look forward to further enhancing our collaboration with NC State and those across the southern region to develop and implement a research agenda to tackle obesity, in which disproportionately affects low-income populations.”