Environmental Barriers to Healthful Dietary and Physical Activity Behaviors in the EFNEP Participant Population

Susan Baker, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Colorado State University; Karen Barale, Associate Professor and State EFNEP Program Leader, Washington State University Extension

Objectives: To develop an understanding of 1) environmental barriers that directly impact dietary and physical activity (PA) behaviors in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and SNAP-Ed participant populations, and 2) environmental changes that may encourage more healthful behaviors in this population.

Design: The authors conducted telephone focus groups (n=10) with paraprofessional educators. Focus groups used a semi-structured script reviewed by an expert panel and pilot-tested with a group of Colorado EFNEP educators.

Participants:  EFNEP and/or SNAP-Ed paraprofessional educators (n=50) from 10 different U.S. states representing all National Institute of Food and Agriculture regions.

Main Outcome Measures: Key themes and quotations relevant to environmental barriers experienced by this population and educator-generated ideas for solutions to target each barrier.

Analysis: Two reviewers independently coded each transcript then met to come to consensus on themes related to environmental themes and potential solutions.

Results: Concordant with existing literature, reduced availability, high costs, a lack of adequate transportation, and safety concerns emerged as key barriers to accessing and utilizing healthful dietary and physical activity resources within this population. The educators also provided valuable ideas for strategies to target each barrier. For example, potential solutions to the availability barrier include creating mobile farmers’ markets, partnering with volunteer groups to provide free delivery of food from food banks or retailers to areas with limited access, working with alternative retailers (e.g. dollar stores) to offer produce in urban areas, providing free seeds to encourage home gardening, and facilitating development of or participation in community gardens.

Conclusions and Implications:

Environmental barriers are complex, multifactorial, and often interrelated. Employing policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change efforts in combination with direct nutrition and physical activity education is the most effective means of promoting healthful behavior change in the low-income population. Additional research is needed to understand how to best incorporate PSE into EFNEP/SNAP-ED programs with the potential for including PSE activities for participants in direct education lessons.


  • Start date – September 2015
  • Target completion date – August 2018