Communicating nutrition education messages to people from a variety of cultural backgrounds can be a challenging and rewarding experience. The challenge is magnified by the rapid changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. population. Nutrition educators must learn to appreciate the importance of food within different cultures and cultural influences on the food choices people make. Then they need to develop strategies for working within a community and communicating effectively with community members.
To help nutrition educators meet the challenge successfully, NCEMCH developed the monograph, Celebrating Diversity: Approaching Families Through Their Food in 1994 with programmatic guidance from Brenda Lisi, USDA, and Denise Sofka, DHHS/Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). The guide presents information and ideas gathered from many sources. We reviewed printed resource materials, talked with nutrition educators around the United States, and received feedback from experts in the area. We held two focus groups—one comprising nutrition professionals (those with a formal degree in nutrition) and the other comprising para-professionals, peer educators, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) workers, and others. The focus groups included participants representing more than 10 different cultures.
In addition, we sent surveys to and held telephone interviews with more than 30 providers, including Head Start nutritionists, Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritionists and paraprofessionals, Indian Health Service nutritionists, and nutritionists from other programs serving culturally diverse populations. Survey respondents gave suggestions for learning about new cultural groups in a community, training staff to work with these groups, providing nutrition or health education messages in new ways, helping families learn about and adjust to the American culture, and making families feel comfortable in a new setting. A panel of experts reviewed the document at several stages and provided practical suggestions for approaching families through their food.
The 1998 revision of this publication resulted from the contributions of many people. Comments were first solicited from representatives of national organizations and state agencies with a focus on one or more cultural groups. These people were asked to comment on the accuracy of the information and illustrations in the publication, identify any missing information, and suggest additional resources. The suggested revisions were reviewed by members of the USDA/ DHHS Nutrition Education Committee for Maternal and Child Nutrition Publications. Katrina Holt served as project director; Darby Graves and Carol Suitor were the primary authors.
In Celebrating Diversity: Approaching Families Through Their Food, we presented ideas and suggestions—not to answer every question you may have, but to inspire some creative thinking about ways to celebrate diversity and to communicate about food. It was a concept that took hold and led to this online curriculum.
In 2010, NCEMCH received a grant from MCHB to develop an online curriculum based on Celebrating Diversity, under John Richards as project director. This curriculum, authored by Beth DeFrancis and Sarah Riehl, integrated core MCH values and training needs, including:
An online curriculum was launched in 2013, after three rounds of review from focus groups representing academic professionals and members of the Title V workforce at the state level. In 2016, NCEMCH began a major review of the curriculum, led by John Richards and Tiffany Lam. Additional content was prepared by Sarah Riehl. The curriculum is being pilot tested by student and professional audiences; findings of the review are being used to improve the curriculum and form the basis of Lam's senior thesis at Georgetown University.
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