Areas Needing Improvement in the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program

CED-80-138: Published: Sep 4, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 1980.

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GAO made a limited assessment of the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). In April 1980, GAO testified before the subcommittee on overall program operations and on program activities. EFNEP has the potential for improving and maintaining people's health through better diets and for saving money through knowledgeable food purchases. Ignorance about nutrition is not limited to those at certain income levels but spans all socioeconomic levels and cultures. The need to combat this ignorance is critical at the lowest income levels because the poor can least afford food waste and are more likely to have health problems. The purpose of EFNEP is to improve the diets of low-income families through guidance on diet and food buying, care, and preparation. The guidance is provided mainly through paraprofessional program aides from the target areas. Fewer program aides have been employed and fewer homemakers have been instructed because inflation has eroded the purchasing power of EFNEP funds.

EFNEP program managers need to consider alternative ways to reach and educate more target families with less funds and personnel. One-to-one communication is the EFNEP basic approach to recruiting and instructing homemakers. This approach is costly and limits the number of families that can be reached. Continuing attention to and encouragement of efforts by EFNEP managers is needed in developing and adopting alternative communication and dissemination methods to reach more people with available resources. EFNEP does not have specific standards and effective evaluation and feedback tools to measure its success. Data is not gathered and compiled on changes in the participants' knowledge or behavior regarding food buying, preparation, and care. Reviews by the Department of Agriculture 1nd others have given little insight into program effectiveness. Program administration varied in the States and at the sites reviewed. Those sites with closer supervision had better records to support and assess their activities. At other sites, records were so poorly maintained that the data's unreliability precluded any meaningful assessment of the program. Most aides lacked a high school education and while able to develop a rapport with homemakers, they could not cope with the program's administrative demands. Controls to ensure aides' attendance or performance were sometimes lax and informal. Some aides had excessive caseloads. The program's management information system does not provide adequate information on program operations. Funds are not well managed.

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