Home | Health | Diet & Nutrition | Nutrition | Public Health Nutrition Education

Public Health Nutrition Education

by Mary von Ploennies
  • Overview

    Public health nutrition education teaches healthy nutrition behaviors and strives to create conditions where the public can practice these behaviors. A public health nutritionist assesses community needs and develops, coordinates, delivers and evaluates nutrition education based on the needs of the community. The community can consist of a group of individuals, neighborhood, county, state or other geographic region. Nutritional needs may include conditions such as anemia, low birth weight, obesity and diabetes.
  • Public health nutrition education promotes access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Significance

    Public health nutrition education uses health education techniques to prevent disease and promote optimal health in the general public. The goal of public health nutrition education is to create healthy behavior change in a community. In light of the pediatric obesity crisis, former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, called upon health professionals to help Americans make sound health decisions. Effective public health nutrition education is vital to battle obesity.
  • Function

    Public health nutritionists employ a variety of techniques to change health behaviors. These techniques include nutrition counseling and assessment, teaching nutrition classes, ensuring access to food assistance and developing healthy food messages in the media. A public health nutritionist screens, identifies and treats the problem in nutrition counseling. A nutrition class on healthy cooking techniques or reading food labels demonstrates skills to help people make healthy food choices. Public health nutrition education encompasses referrals to food assistance and development of media campaigns to encourage healthy choices.
  • Types

    Two main types of service comprise public health nutrition education: individual nutrition services and population-based services. Individual nutrition services include one-to-one nutrition counseling. For example, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program provides nutrition education to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their young children who are at nutritional risk. A population-based approach conducts community-based interventions, such as California's Power Play! Campaign, a statewide campaign to encourage nine- to eleven-year-old children to eat more fruits and vegetables and be physically active. Human service agencies, health care facilities, educational institutions, consumer advocacy groups, health agencies and emergency food assistance programs conduct public health nutrition education.
  • Effects

    The WIC Program has demonstrated improved outcomes in birth weights, growth, iron deficiency anemia and diets of children enrolled in WIC. With WIC serving almost 50 percent of all babies born in the U.S., WIC improves the nutritional status and health outcomes of nearly half of the U.S. pediatric population. Evaluation gauges the success of nutrition education and, ultimately, the health impact of the population it serves.
  • Considerations

    Teaching nutrition helps change eating behaviors; removing barriers to healthy eating ensures that the environment supports behavior change. If local grocery stores do not carry fresh fruits and vegetables, a family may find it very difficult to eat more healthy foods. Likewise, if fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive or of poor quality, people will not choose to buy them, even if they know they should be eating fruits and vegetables. Public health nutrition education has evolved to include advocacy and policy development to raise awareness of community needs and address these environmental changes.

    References & Resources