History of the Regional Nutrition and Obesity Prevention Education Centers of Excellence

History of Nutrition Education at USDA

Nutrition education and promotion programs for low-income or disadvantaged groups have been a priority within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nearly half a century.

USDA administers nutrition education programs that target low-income populations through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-ED), created in 1992, is the primary educational program administered through FNS. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), initiated in 1969, is the principal educational effort administered through NIFA.

Regional Centers of Excellence in Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Created

In fiscal year 2014, the USDA established the Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Centers of Excellence (RNECE) to demonstrate the effectiveness of the SNAP-Ed and EFNEP programs and to identify changes to improve both programs. The RNECE will supplement and enhance ongoing program monitoring efforts and evaluation activities to strengthen the evidence-base of SNAP-Ed and EFNEP programs by assuring their effectiveness, innovation, replicability, sustainability and cost-effectiveness.

The collaboration between NIFA and FNS provided $4,000,000 to fund five institutions for two-years to support this initiative.

  • National Coordination Center: University of Kentucky
  • North Central Region: Purdue University
  • Northeastern Region: Cornell University
  • Southern Region: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Western Region: Colorado State University

Goals and Objectives of RNECE

The overarching goal of the RNECE is to improve the health of low-income Americans by fostering a culture of health through multiple strategies, including nutrition education and complementary public health approaches implemented at each level of the socio-ecological framework through policy, systems and environmental changes.

Each Regional Center is tasked with planning, developing and administering at least one signature research program that targets an identified need in the region. The objective of each RNECE is to:

  1. Strengthen the evidence-base on effective nutrition education/obesity prevention programs for diverse population groups.
  2. Evaluate the long-term effectiveness of nutrition education/obesity prevention interventions for disadvantaged and underserved populations and identify opportunities for new research.
  3. Identify and create research collaborations and synergistic relationships among researchers and EFNEP/SNAP-Ed program directors, universities and other implementers, and state and federal agencies.

The objectives of the National Coordination Center are to:

  1. Coordinate communication among regional centers and conduct regional center reviews.
  2. Aggregate and disseminate research findings, and identify common themes and results across the four regions.
  3. Synthesize and report national data to stakeholders.

The work of the RNECE will build the evidence-base for nutrition education and obesity prevention strategies and interventions that produce measurable improvements in health, obesity, nutrition, and physical activity-related outcomes; and develop effective education, extension, environmental, systems and policy translational activities that promote health and prevent/reduce obesity in disadvantaged low-income families and children.

Findings from RNECE will be communicated to all EFNEP and SNAP-Ed implementing agencies, the scientific community and the general public.