Public health student brings nutrition education to low-income communities

Department of Population and Public Health Sciences
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Department of Population and Public Health Sciences
Published
April 7, 2018
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USC Master of Public Health student Amanda Litty, DTR, combines a knowledge of nutrition, lifestyle and community education to improve the health of families in low-income communities.

This post is part of our National Public Health Week series! We’re putting the spotlight a different area of public health each day. We hope you are as inspired as we are by the featured change-makers in this series.

In the United States, nutrition can be a segregating topic, with some people shopping at premium organic grocery stores and, around the corner, others struggling to feed their families. Amanda Litty, DTR, believes that the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and a nutrition little knowledge can go a long way to help more families enjoy healthy diets. During her time working with , Litty devoted her efforts to creating health communication materials educating communities on health, lifestyle and diet.

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                                                             Pictured: Amanda Litty, DTR                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy Amanda Litty

What is your work focused on?

I’m interested in developing materials and messaging for low-income populations to improve nutrition habits. At the University of Maryland Extension SNAP-Ed program, I had the opportunity to write content for nutrition education materials, including calendars that were distributed in schools, clinics and health departments state-wide. SNAP-Ed is a portion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that is dedicated to teaching individuals and groups on how to better use their money, and the money they receive from SNAP, to make healthy choices and improve their nutrition status.

What inspired you to get involved in health communication on nutrition?

My bachelor’s degree is in nutritional science and dietetics so I get excited about teaching individuals and groups about how to better nourish their bodies. Although I didn’t end up becoming a registered dietitian, I still wanted to be involved in community nutrition because I’m a strong believer that good nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.

What are your goals when developing health communication materials?

I want to educate low-income populations on healthful, budget-friendly food options and how to achieve a healthy lifestyle. For SNAP-Ed, it means increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, increasing physical activity and teaching families healthy habits such as cooking together and eating at the table as a family.

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What types of activities did your work with SNAP-Ed entail?

Our work was very collaborative, both with our program team and other organizations. Our educators also collaborated with personnel at the sites in order to determine what type of programming was the best fit. I was with UMD SNAP-Ed for two years, and I feel we had a lot of successes and achievements. We got good feedback from recipients of the materials I worked on, which I appreciated on a personal level.

Why is it so important to educate low-income communities on nutrition?

I think, considering the current political climate, it’s more important than ever that we continue to promote community nutrition initiatives and explore other ways of getting messaging to our target audience. It is possible that future cuts to funding could compromise our reach. We’ve already seen the consequences of doing nothing in the rise of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, as well as children being diagnosed as obese at elementary school age or younger.

What are the major challenges in community nutrition?

Since SNAP-Ed is funded through USDA, budget cuts and value changes in the current administration are probably the biggest threat to this program. In my experience, the greatest allies we had at UMD were teachers and principals at schools, many of whom saw positive changes in their students. We also received buy-in from parents, who are often the hardest nuts to crack if they are not already on board. I learned that if the parents don’t believe in your message, or think it’s worth their time and money, it will be difficult to see results regardless of how much the child embraces the message. For instance, a child may love fresh blueberries provided at a tasting table, but the parent may not care for them. Kids follow what their parents do.

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What can the public do to get involved?

Observe and learn about what makes people different. Maryland is a fairly small state compared to California, but there were still so many things I didn’t even consider as to why people from different communities make different choices that affect their health. Even a small effort like volunteering at a food bank or pantry will have you walking away with a different mindset, and you’ll have made an impact on a community.

What can public health students and professionals do to help?

Always consider why people make certain choices, especially where the cost- benefit ratio of certain decisions could be much greater than your own. For those currently working in public health, it’s important to stay involved at the grassroots level; get out and meet the populations you are working with! If your goal is to help communities, do your best to learn about their needs. It is easy to get caught up in ideas you think will work, but it is important to do your due diligence first. Take the time to discover what is needed and how you can help by getting out of the office or lab and meeting community members.

 To learn more about community nutrition and to get involved, visit Snap-Ed and Share Our Strength. 

Interested in health communication? The MPH program at USC offers concentration options that will provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to make a difference. Download our Degrees and Careers Guide to read more about our degree offerings and the field of public health.

 

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