Colorado State Cooperative Extension Uses Technology to Teach Nutrition

Reaching specific populations with information can often be difficult, particularly when trying to get people to participate in educational workshops – language barriers, limited transportation and lack of available childcare are just a few obstacles that must be overcome.

Such were the obstacles faced by one Colorado State University Cooperative Extension nutrition education program designed to reach low income, Hispanic and migrant farm worker families in the state. This group was identified as a high-risk population because of its socio-economic status, predisposition to certain nutrition-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and low education and literacy levels. Diet modifications could lesson the health risks of many in this population.

The bilingual program, La Cocina Saludable, or The Healthy Kitchen, was designed by Colorado State Cooperative Extension about five years ago to answer a request by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for educational programs to help high-risk populations. With help from a USDA grant, the program recruited abuelas (Hispanic grandmothers), taught them nutritional information and helped them present workshops to the target population with significant results. Yet some people within the groups’ focus were still hard to reach.

"We have great success in providing education through the La Cocina Saludable classes," said Jennifer Anderson, Colorado State Cooperative Extension food science and human nutrition specialist.

Anderson lead a group of colleagues in the university’s food science and human nutrition department in designing and teaching La Cocina Saludable.

"We wanted to reach more people one-on-one who can’t make it to the classes," Anderson said. "It’s difficult for some to come to the classes because they don’t have a babysitter, they don’t have transportation to the workshops or they have to work. So we set to work finding ways to reach them when they do have time to learn. One obvious choice was to use technology through an interactive program that can be accessed at a time or place convenient to them."

A few key lessons about nutrition could have an impact on people’s food choices and attitudes, according to results from the La Cocina Saludable classes. The goals of the program include learning to plan meals, shopping to make food stamps or grocery budgets last all month and improving diet and health.

The original curriculum included six workshop units: budgeting for food, reading nutrition labels, shopping, meal planning, basic nutrition, making nutritious snacks for children, food safety and choosing healthful foods. Working from those units, which were already successful, the group boiled down the workshops into 15-minute, interactive sessions on a bilingual CD-ROM.

Touch-screen kiosks with the CD-ROM program were tested around the state in the lobbies of food stamp distribution centers, health clinics, health departments, food banks, Head Start facilities and WIC clinics (Women, Infants and Children), said Sue Gould, La Cocina Saludable coordinator at Colorado State University. The locations were targeted because they are frequented by low-income families.

The group designed the CD-ROM program to include 15-minute interactive sessions because the average wait in a waiting room is 15 minutes. With the CD-ROM, people have a chance to learn an entire lesson prior to appointments. Results are encouraging – people who go through the program improve their knowledge about nutrition. Results also show that they form new attitudes about nutrition and changing their diet because of the CD-ROM lessons.

Gould said that the CD-ROM has been used with various audiences including teenage mothers, and is currently used in about 40 locations in Colorado and six in Wyoming. The program continues to branch out into other locations with the CD-ROM, which is available through Colorado State Cooperative Extension to outlets wanting to offer nutritional education to low income audiences.

"The design of this program and the careful placement of kiosks into areas frequented by this audience are teaching people about nutrition and helping them understand how to improve their health through better diets," said Anderson. "The development of La Cocina Saludable and the use of technology where it can be reached is really making a difference to people who are struggling to eat healthfully and to stretch budgets to include adequate groceries."

For more information about the La Cocina Saludable classes or the CD-ROM, call Gould at 970-491-7040.