For every dollar invested in teaching low-income adults in New York state about healthy food choices, the benefit is about $10 in reduced health-care costs and improved productivity, finds a new Cornell study.
Jamie Dollahite, associate professor of nutritional sciences, and her colleagues assessed the costs and benefits of the New York State Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which gives low-income adults information and skills to improve their family's diet and nutritional well-being.
The study is published in the May/June issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
The researchers looked at the costs and benefits of the EFNEP program for 5,730 low-income adults who "graduated" from New York's six-session EFNEP program in 2000 at a cost of about $900 per person.
Using the same approach that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has used in cost-benefit analyses, the researchers not only estimated how the program participants' changed behaviors affected their health and medical costs, but also their productivity, life expectancy and quality of life.
All told, the improvements produced by EFNEP were estimated to be worth more than $49 million, producing a benefit-to-cost ratio of $9.59 per $1. In other words, each dollar spent on EFNEP resulted in about $10 in benefits.
"Cost-effectiveness was estimated to be as great as for many current health interventions, such as lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes," said Dollahite. "The education provided by EFNEP also directly supports current goals of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as indicated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Healthy People, 2010."
EFNEP, which has been offering nutrition education in New York since 1969, is delivered through Cooperative Extension throughout the United States with federal, state and local funding. It reaches more than 150,000 low-income adults each year.
The study, which was co-authored by Cornell professor Donald Kenkel and graduate student C. Scott Thompson, both in policy analysis and management, was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell's College of Human Ecology and Cornell Cooperative Extension.