Alcorn State University receives major MDHS grant to improve nutrition and health outcomes

Alcorn State University has partnered with the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) to improve nutritional and health outcomes for underserved communities in Southwest Mississippi as an approved provider of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) for the region.

The SNAP-Ed grant, valued at over $1 million and supports Alcorn’s efforts to help low-income families make healthy food choices within a limited budget.

“Our partnership with MDHS shows Alcorn’s unwavering commitment to serving our community and addressing the nutritional and health challenges faced by underserved populations,” said Dr. Tracy M. Cook, interim president. “We are proud to be a part of this program and look forward to continuing to make a positive impact on the lives of residents in Adams, Claiborne, and Jefferson counties.”

MDHS identified counties along the Mississippi River that continue to be underserved in Mississippi’s SNAP-Ed programs. Alcorn was identified as a critical partner in expanding the SNAP-Ed program into rural Mississippi counties, including Jefferson, Adams, and Claiborne counties, to improve nutrition outcomes.

Local SNAP-Ed programs identify target audiences and, based on local needs, deliver nutritional information to that audience. Alcorn will also educate individuals eligible for any other federal assistance programs (TANF, WIC, etc.) to help improve their dietary practices and ability to manage available food resources.

“We are active in every aspect of the SNAP-Ed implementation at Alcorn, from conceptualizing to working with the program,” said Martha Ravola, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of Human Sciences. “Not every HBCU has a SNAP-Ed program. This is an opportunity to serve our community to help improve nutritional outcomes.”

“Social marketing would be one of our driving forces,” added Ravola. “Areas around Alcorn are known to have higher obesity-related lifestyle levels, resulting in cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes — all ailments related to obesity. We call them ‘lifestyle diseases.’ These are not just health issues but also economic burdens on society, which are more prevalent in African-American communities.”

SNAP-Ed aims to improve key behavioral outcomes for Mississippi participants, such as encouraging participants to eat proper amounts of fruits and vegetables — half a plate per meal, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk products. The program also encourages appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life, increased physical activity, and reduced time spent in sedentary behaviors.

“Empowering communities through nutrition education is not just a mission; it’s a partnership for change,” said Dr. Dexter Wakefield, interim dean, College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. “Working in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Alcorn is committed to providing resources for the community leading toward a productive healthy lifestyle. With SNAP-Ed, valued at over $1 million, we’re not just providing meals, we’re sowing the seeds of health and wellness in underserved communities, one healthy choice at a time.  One home at a time.”

Alcorn will provide SNAP-Ed direct education in elementary schools to change children’s nutritional behaviors and work with teachers. Through programming through food demonstrations and food health education, Alcorn’s goal is to ensure that children participate in more physical activity and eat healthier.

“This partnership with Alcorn State University is critical to help address the nutritional and overall health outcomes in Adams, Claiborne, and Jefferson counties,” said Kristi Kinnel, economic assistance eligibility regional director with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). “Utilizing Alcorn’s strategic location, extensive connections to residents in these three traditionally underserved counties, and its reputation as a leading Land-grant institution, this partnership is critical to addressing the historically adverse nutritional outcomes compounded by rural locations’ access to healthy food options.”

She continues, “Utilizing the expertise of faculty, this partnership can have an impact on access to healthy food options, education for utilizing healthy food for rural families, and bridging the nutritional divide that many rural populations experience on a daily basis.”

This process is facilitated by a collaborative partnership between Alcorn and agencies and organizations representing the needs of SNAP-eligible individuals.