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UCCE helps low-income Californians increase food security

The Issue

From 2007 to 2009, during the nation’s economic downturn, food insecurity in California’s low-income adult population increased from 35 percent to 40 percent. These adults were not able to procure sufficient food to maintain a healthy diet for themselves and other household members. Food insecurity effects academic achievement, increases the risk of obesity and chronic disease and impairs mental health. A 2012 UCLA Health Policy Brief reported that 38 million low-income adults in California were food insecure and that rates were highest in low-income Spanish-speaking households and those with children. Although participation in federal food assistance programs has increased since 2007, many recipients experience food resource management challenges, lacking skills to maximize their food dollars to buy, prepare and store healthy foods. Providing low-income families with food education along with resource management skills can help improve the overall health and food security of the household.

What Has ANR Done?

In 2011, UCCE nutrition advisors responded to the need for food resource management education by developing a four-lesson series called Plan, Shop, Save, and Cook (PSSC). UCCE CalFresh Nutrition Program educators began teaching the PSSC series statewide in 2011. During each one-hour lesson, participants learned and practiced skills to help them eat healthier on their limited budgets. Skill building activities included planning healthy meals based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, writing a shopping list for their menus, using food labels to select healthy foods and beverages,identifying the lowest cost product option by using unit pricing, and tasting easy to prepare, low-cost healthy recipes. Participants also learned about cooking and storage techniques to save time and avoid food waste.

The Payoff

Food insecure families eat healthier on a limited budget

UCCE statewide evaluation data collected from 3,744 individuals from 2011-2013 indicated that participant improvement in food resource management skills ranged from 53 percent in reading food labels to 38 percent in comparing prices. The participants not only improved their resource management skills to eat healthier, but also improved their food security by 37 percent (as measured by not running out of food). Specifically, participants who received federal food assistance through the SNAP program and made greater improvements in their resource skills reported the greatest improvement in food security.

Clientele Testimonial

“I first learned about the product labels, this class gave me more ideas on how to manage my money on healthy, affordable food. I could understand that fast foods are expensive and unhealthy for humans and the instructor was always explaining that health is always first, thanks for this nutritional class, hopefully not the last class.”- Contra Costa County participant


Supporting Unit: UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program

Marisa Neelon, mqneelon@ucanr.edu, (925) 646-6128
David Ginsburg, dcginsburg@ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-0555