Information Technology in Food and Nutrition Extension Programs

By Hertzler, Ann A.; Brochetti, Denise et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Information Technology in Food and Nutrition Extension Programs


Hertzler, Ann A., Brochetti, Denise, Stewart, Daisy, Templeman, Nancy, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Extension educators, FCS Extension clientele, and Food and Nutrition Extension specialists across the U.S. were surveyed to identify ways in which the Internet and other electronic resources are being used in food and nutrition programs. Results indicate that educators access, disseminate, and present information electronically on food and nutrition. Nearly three-fourths of the FCS Extension client respondents used computers and two-thirds used the Internet. Although Extension Web sites were identified in the survey, much of the food and nutrition information is duplicated and difficult to locate. Interactive Extension Web sites that provide credible information in user-friendly formats are needed.

More than two-thirds of Americans have access to the Internet, and about half of Internet users believe most or all of online information is reliable (The UCLA Internet Report, 2000).

Many health concerns in the U.S. such as heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and some forms of cancer are diet-related. Risks for these diseases can be reduced with nutritious diets and regular exercise. Although a number of Web sites on food and nutrition exist, some are difficult to locate, and some do not provide scientifically sound information (Hertzler, Young, Baum, Lawson, & PennMarshall, 1999).

Family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals have a rich history of educating families about food and nutrition (Hertzler, 1984). Because many Americans search the Internet for food and nutrition information, FCS professionals need to use it in their education programs. First, however, the current uses and challenges of this technology to FCS professionals and clientele must be identified. Therefore, a survey was designed to identify ways in which the Internet and other electronic resources are used within Cooperative Extension food and nutrition programs.

The authors acknowledge funding support for this research project provided by the Virginia Tech Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth, and Families.

SURVEY DESIGN

A project team of four university faculty and staff members with teaching and/or Extension responsibility conducted the study in one southeastern state. The survey was implemented in spring, 2001, and was approved by an institutional review board.

FCS Extension educators, FCS clientele, and food and nutrition Extension specialists across the US participated. FCS Extension educators were asked to identify ways in which they were using the computer, Internet, and other electronic resources, and to assess the feasibility of incorporating new technologies into education programs. The FCS clientele were asked about electronic resources used and the type of information searched for on the Web. Food and nutrition Extension specialists were asked how they were using the Internet in Extension programs.

The team designed three questionnaires, one for each group in the study. Each questionnaire consisted of open- and closed-end questions. Questionnaires were mailed to 67 FCS Extension educators. Five of the educators who specialize in nutrition and wellness administered the FCS clientele questionnaire to 10 individuals. Food and nutrition Extension specialists received the questionnaire electronically via fnspec@purdue.edu. Percentages were calculated for each questionnaire.

RESULTS

FCS Extension Educators

Thirty-three (49.3%) FCS Extension educators completed and returned the questionnaire. All indicated that they had their own office computer and access to laptops and PowerPoint presentation projectors. This suggests that these educators were equipped to access, disseminate, and present information electronically on food and nutrition in programs.

Most of the FCS educators used the Internet occasionally or frequently to receive or answer client questions via e-mail (91%) and to refer clients to Web sites (94%). …

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