A culture-centered approach to health and nutrition among low-income groups: Recommendations for Land-Grant University engagement

Abigail S Borron, Purdue University


Despite years of efforts by dedicated volunteers, local organizations, and government agencies, poverty remains a persistent and problematic phenomenon within society. Indeed, U.S. Census data show a steady increase in the rate of poverty over the last several decades. The persistence in poverty has led to the development of federal programs focusing on specific dimensions and outcomes of poverty, such as poor nutrition. The current study draws from social-scientific principles of the culture-centered approach (CCA) to critically examine the contested nature and ongoing intersection of three constructs: culture, structure and agency, as they relate to the Purdue Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Three sets of actors in the study represented various program components: EFNEP participants currently enrolled or recently graduated from the program, EFNEP paraprofessionals who deliver the program, and county- and campus-based EFNEP administrators. A variety of methodological approaches, including in-depth interviews, workgroups, photovoice, participant observation and reflexive journaling, were used to gain a deeper understanding of the contested nature of culture, structure and agency. Findings revealed that nutrition is often situated within the context of a larger discussion that involves substantial barriers to EFNEP participants' adoption of recommended nutritional practices. In addition, the inclusion of participants, paraprofessionals and administrators in the process of data collection began to reveal the intricacies and ongoing contested nature among culture, structure and agency. As a result, four recommendations are directed toward university personnel and the system that administers and maintains engagement activities. The first recommendation is to recognize the complexity of poverty. The second is to give voice to program participants. The third is to develop humility and the intellectual capacity to listen. And, the fourth recommendation is to reconsider approaches to university engagement in the context of CCA. Each of the recommendations offers calls to action within the areas of Extension programming.^




Mark A. Tucker, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Health Sciences, Nutrition|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare|Education, Higher

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