Special Report Food Security
Can we empower children?
SNAP-Ed instructors’ on-the-ground approach
Kids everywhere love school assemblies, topic be damned. They’ll pack themselves shoulder-to-shoulder into an auditorium to watch a likeness of George Washington talking copyright law. They’ll do it — and happily — because it’s impromptu asylum from class.
But when the fourth-graders at Columbus’ Linden STEM Academy learn they will be staying deskside for a nutrition class instead of heading to an assembly, they cheer. They are effervescence personified.
Lindsey Blum and Brooke Moeller are SNAP-Ed program assistants through the OSU Extension system. To the wiggly energy in elementary schools throughout Columbus, Blum and Moeller are celebrities who hand out knowledge, power and string cheese.
SNAP-Ed is a nutrition and obesity-prevention program that serves low-income populations in 78 of Ohio’s 88 counties. OSU Extension originally designed Linden STEM’s version as a series of at least three classes. The program’s popularity led some teachers to schedule an additional 10 classes throughout the year.
Blum begins a recent 30-minute class by asking the 9- and 10-year-olds what they recall from their previous class. Hands shoot up. Voices call out.
“Protein!” “Grains!” “Fruits!” “Vegetables!”
Today, they’ll discuss dairy and sugar. Blum tells them that dairy has vitamin D, and they delight in showing off lessons learned in a previous class: Vitamin D leads to strong teeth and bones.
“What do you drink at lunch time?” Moeller asks.
“Chocolate milk!” they call back.
Then Blum helps the class measure the tablespoons of sugar in a week’s worth of chocolate milk versus skim milk. “Oh, my gosh! She’s still going?” one wide-eyed girl says as her classmate adds another and another tablespoon of sugar to the measuring container. “I can’t drink chocolate milk anymore,” she says slowly, filling up on realization.
After seeing the 11.5-gram sugar difference per glass — multiplied by seven days — they comment to one another earnestly that they’ll start choosing white milk at least a few days a week.
Through SNAP-Ed, they already knew the consequences of excess sugar and poor diet choices:
“You could get diabetes!”
“You could get high blood pressure!”
“You could get cavities!”
Clearly, the program’s lessons resonate. This knowledge is “power in their hands,” Blum says. “When they go home, they might not have a lot of choice. So they choose better at school.”
Blum and Moeller hand out cheese, one of the students’ now-expected snacks. In an earlier class, it had been “taste the rainbow” fruits and vegetables, including blackberries, kiwi and orange peppers that many of the kids had never tasted.
It’s impossible to know whether the few children who have their heads down during this particular March class are hungry, tired, stressed or maybe a combination that feels like shame.
Later, Moeller recalls a boy in second grade who had hidden in the corner, arms crossed, head down, when Blum began the white-versus-chocolate-milk lesson. Moeller sat with him in the corner, where he eventually revealed he was at high risk for diabetes.
She asked how he might prevent the disease, and he shrugged his 8-year-old shoulders. So the two played a matching game with dairy-food cards, and Moeller talked about choices. He decided to choose white milk from then on.
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