USDA awards funding for regional centers of excellence in nutrition education and obesity prevention

On Oct. 17 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $4 million in grants to establish four regional centers of excellence for research on nutrition education and obesity prevention, as well as a coordinating center, which will develop and test innovative nutrition education and obesity prevention interventions for underserved, low-income families.

“Nearly one in three children today is overweight or obese, and nutrition promotion strategies, including education, public policies, health systems, and environmental changes, are the key to reversing this trend,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, Ph.D., National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) director. “These grants provide the opportunity to improve the health of our next generation and ensure that all children have access to the tools they need to improve their nutrition and physical fitness.”

“This joint grant program is one of the most important and powerful tools at our disposal to promote healthier choices and improved physical health among participants in our nutrition assistance programs,” said Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Administrator Audrey Rowe. “I am thrilled that we have been able to launch this partnership to drive innovation and increase our impact in preventing and reducing obesity.”

Together, FNS and NIFA will support effective education and extension services through two pre-existing programs; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). This joint effort, known as the SNAP & EFNEP: Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Centers of Excellence (RNECE) will establish centers at Colorado State University, Cornell University, Purdue University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and one national coordinating center at the University of Kentucky.

Each regional center will administer at least one signature research project that will be tailored to address a specific need in that region. In addition, centers will competitively award and evaluate sub-grants for projects in their region. Findings from each of the centers will be shared across all EFNEP and SNAP-Ed agencies, as well as the scientific community and the general public. Collectively, these actions will also help USDA ensure SNAP-Ed strategies and interventions are evidence-based as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The national coordinating center will coordinate communications across the four regions and disseminate findings. The national center will also aggregate data to share with policy makers and other stakeholders, and will work with NIFA to organize annual meetings with the regional centers. The interventions developed through the centers will likely benefit additional populations beyond SNAP and EFNEP participants.

The $4 million in funding supports USDA’s strategic goal of developing and extending a research-based approach to obesity prevention, ultimately producing measurable improvements in health, obesity, nutrition, and physical activity-related outcomes.

Fiscal year 2014 awards include:

  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $856,250
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $856,250
  • University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky., $175,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $856,250
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C., $856,250

SNAP-Ed was initiated in 1992, and is administered by participating state SNAP agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. SNAP-Ed is delivered by nearly 100 implementing agencies, including land-grant universities in 47 states, public health departments, food banks, nonprofit organizations, and others.

EFNEP was started in 1969 and is administered and implemented by 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and six U.S. territories.

USDA’s FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to SNAP, these programs include the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs and the Summer Food Service Program, which together comprise America’s nutrition safety net. Improving the diets of participants is a key component of USDA’s nutrition assistance programs. For more information, visit

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit

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