By Dr. Chris Boerboom and Dr. Daryl Buchholz
More than 45 million Americans live below the poverty line, and in 2014, over 17 million American households were food insecure, meaning they had difficulty providing for all household members or lacked sufficient resources for food. More than one-third, or 78.6 million, of U.S. adults are obese, and more than 117 million Americans are living with at least one chronic health condition. These facts should be viewed as unacceptable by lawmakers in Washington and academics alike, but how can we help our fellow Americans make a better life for themselves and their families?
The answer lies, in part, with Cooperative Extension. Cooperative Extension uses research-based knowledge garnered from land-grant universities like Kansas State or North Dakota State to help Americans develop the necessary skills to live healthier and more productive lives.
Recently, the North Central Cooperative Extension Association (NCCEA) released a report prepared by the research organization Battelle that calls attention to Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences (FSC) programs in the North Central Region, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Although the report calls attention to the North Central Region, the report’s findings reinforce Cooperative Extension’s overall impact. FCS programs are science-based and cost-effective; leverage community networks through a “train the trainer” approach; and focus on prevention education. FCS programs specifically aim to address 21st century health and wellness challenges related to food, nutrition and health; family and human development; and family resource management.
Through Kansas State Extension, Medicare beneficiaries received healthcare education through Senior Health Insurance Counseling. In 2014, this program generated $20.69 in savings on medical and prescription costs for ever $1 spent on the program.
Through FCS Extension, Extension educators also deliver the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which is a federally-funded nutrition education program for families with limited resources. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), this program reaches over half a million low-income families and youth every year. In 2014, Extension Educators reached nearly 63,000 individuals in the North Central Region alone. The program cost $14 million and has resulted in long-term cost savings over $86 million.
FCS Extension is funded, in part, through USDA NIFA, and we applaud our federal lawmakers like Senators John Hoeven, Heidi Heitkamp, Jerry Moran, and Pat Roberts for their support and continued work on these important issues.
Land-grant universities have a three-fold mission of research, teaching, and Extension. Because of our mission, we are dedicated to teaching the next generation of leaders and innovators, discovering cutting edge solutions to 21st century problems, and engaging with our communities. With over 200 land-grant universities nation-wide, the land-grant impact can be felt from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Cooperative Extension also has a wide reach. In fact, over 100 land-grant intuitions have Cooperative Extension. Cooperative Extension reaches every county and parish in every U.S. state and territory through Extension educators, who lead educational programs or hands-on workshops in their communities.
But, can we do more? Yes, with the continued support of our federal, state and county partners, Cooperative Extension can continue to extend knowledge and change lives through our national network of Extension educators.
Dr. Chris Boerboom, Ph.D., is the Director of the North Dakota State University Extension Service and Chair of the North Central Region Extension Association, and Dr. Daryl Buchholz, Ph.D., is the Associate Director of Extension and Applied Research at Kansas State University and past chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, the national coordinating committee for Cooperative Extension. To learn more about the impact of FCS programming and prevention education by Cooperative Extension educators, please visit: http://www.nccea.org/multistate-activities/fcs-battelle-report-2015/h