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Young girl planting broccoli

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — More than 66% of children in Alabama ages 1 to 5 have at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per week, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Compared to other states, Alabama is in the bottom third of the country in this category, ranking No. 43. Similarly, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reports that 57% of children ages 1 to 5 do not eat a vegetable each week and 39% consume less than one piece of fruit each week in Alabama. In these categories, Alabama ranks No. 45 and No. 49 in the nation, respectively.

The new CDC report also said programs and policies aimed at supporting nutrition for young children could lead to improvements in dietary quality and support optimal growth and health. Through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University, there are programs funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed at introducing young children to fruits and vegetables. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed)–funded by the Food and Nutrition Service–and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)–funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture–both have nutrition education programming for young children.


Alabama Extension at Auburn University SNAP-Ed educators work in 54 Alabama counties to provide nutrition education to adults and children through a series of programs. One evidence-based program for preschool children is Learning about Nutrition through Activities (LANA).

LANA helps children establish healthy eating habits early through education and actively encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption at school, childcare centers and home. The program also helps children learn to eat more fruits and vegetables through increased opportunities to taste and have hands-on experiences with fruits and vegetables at an early age. Additionally, LANA creates a supportive environment for young children to taste new foods. It also connects classroom activities with home environments.

SNAP-Ed Coordinator Katie Funderburk said studies show that repeated exposure to fruits and vegetables is a key component in helping children develop a taste for them. She also said early intervention is beneficial for helping children learn to like a variety of different foods in a safe and fun environment.

“After LANA lessons, the children take home storybooks and family activity packets that reinforce concepts from class,” Funderburk said. “SNAP-Ed educators have even been able to partner with some schools and childcare centers to establish a vegetable garden on-site, allowing children more opportunities for hands-on learning and trying foods from the garden.”


According to Alabama Extension at Auburn University EFNEP Coordinator Theresa Mince, a child’s eating preferences and behavior are largely influenced by their parents. Parents decide what foods are made available and serve as role models to young children. EFNEP works to improve child nutrition habits by educating parents and parents-to-be on federal dietary guidelines through preparation of easy, healthy meals.

“EFNEP educators across 36 counties provide free, interactive nutrition education series programs to parents of young children that focus on the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption while limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” Mince said. “The program also works to instill these habits from pregnancy onward through a prenatal nutrition education program called Today’s Mom. This program aims to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes, while building lifelong healthy habits for parent and child.”

Mince said Today’s Mom participants learn to model their meals after USDA food guidance called MyPlate, which recommends at least half of each meal consist of fruits and vegetables.

“Educators refute the fresh is best myth by educating parents on the convenience, affordability and nutritional benefits of fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables,” she said. “All programming works to improve health outcomes and change behaviors by providing realistic, manageable goals for incorporating healthier foods into everyday life.”


ALProHealth is another Alabama Extension program partnering with communities to increase access to fruits and vegetables. ALProHeath is a cooperative agreement between Alabama Extension and the CDC that works to increase access to healthier foods and places for physical activity in 13 Alabama counties.

With guidance from community stakeholders, the program identifies needs and the ability of communities to access healthier foods. For example, as part of increasing access to healthier foods, improving the capacity of food pantries by providing more cold and dry storage allows pantries to offer a wider variety of foods to the individuals and families they serve.

Ruth Brock, ALProHealth program manager, said pantries are often unable to take donations of fresh vegetables in the summer or frozen turkeys during the holidays because of a lack of storage.

“Enhancing food pantries’ capacity to store perishable items, in turn, allows for increased options of fresh and frozen foods,” Brock said.

More Information

For more information about SNAP-Ed, EFNEP or ALProHealth, visit www.aces.edu or visit Live Well Alabama on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.