Colorado State University’s Food Friends programs land international award

Colorado State University’s Food Friends programs have received a new award from the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior.

SNEB selected Food Friends for its inaugural Program Impact Award in Nutrition Education, which recognizes an individual or group for a nutrition education program or practice that has resulted in documented changes in behavior.

Emeritus Professor Jennifer Anderson and Assistant Professor Laura Bellows of CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition accepted the award at the annual SNEB conference in Pittsburgh in late July.

Food Friends was created by CSU nearly 20 years ago and has become established in Colorado preschool programs as a fun and effective way for kids to try new foods and enhance motor skills — developing healthy habits early in life as a result.

The Food Friends programs provide engaging activities that encourage healthy eating and activity for younger children. “Food Friends: Fun With New Foods” works to increase preschool-aged children’s willingness to try new foods, to enhance the quality of their diets. A companion program that involves physical activity, called “Food Friends: Get Movin’ with Mighty Moves,” was designed to encourage children to enhance their activity habits early in life. The programs were built on social cognitive theory and the idea that children’s habits are embedded within home and school environments.

Research performed throughout the programs has produced 14 peer-reviewed publications and 49 abstracts presented at regional, national and international conferences.

“The research studies have transitioned into programs for widespread dissemination, implemented in 210 Head Start and preschool centers (1,036 classrooms) and 471 family child-care homes in Colorado over the past five years, reaching over 66,000 children and families,” said Bellows.

The Food Friends programs have been successful for almost two decades because of their core nutrition education principles.

“Although the reach of this program is clearly significant, it is also clear that the Food Friends program produces behavior change,” department head Michael Pagliassotti wrote in a letter of support. “Behavior change appears to be occurring not only in children but also families and even providers. Thus, the Food Friends programs represent an important, sustainable and impactful strategy to improve healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in large numbers of people. The Food Friends program is a model of behavior change that has a demonstrated impact on large numbers of people.”

The Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs’ “Smarter Lunchrooms Movement” received an honorable mention for the Program Impact Award in Nutrition Education. That program was recognized for its evidence-based program dedicated to increasing the consumption of healthful foods in schools while decreasing food waste.