The Alabama Extension at Auburn University’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program– Education connects the community to healthy resources through the power of texting!
At any given time Katie Funderburk and the Alabama Extension team are communicating with over 4,000 parents across the state of Alabama. As the Nutrition and Evaluation Coordinator for Alabama Extension at Auburn University’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program– Education (SNAP-Ed), she’s in charge of getting important health and nutrition education to people without typical access to these resources. The key to reaching such a diverse group of busy parents? Texting!
Texting Into a Healthier Lifestyle
One of the programs Katie and her team facilitate, Body Quest, has been a part of the third grade curriculum at schools across the state for over eight years. Nutrition educators travel and facilitate lessons and exercises on general nutrition to third grade students. The participating schools are often situated in rural towns with limited access to healthy and fresh food. At least 50% of the student body at these schools qualify for free or reduced price meals.
Reaching Parents Where They Are
While the program was able to track the progress of the students in school, Katie realized that without involving the parents, there was no way of knowing if changes were occurring in the home. With parents often working multiple jobs and dealing with limited transportation, Katie found it was difficult to get them into a physical space to receive lessons from the nutrition educators.
Texting came as a way to engage parents in the program, without requiring them to attend meetings or seminars.
“A lot of nutrition and general education programs may do something like send home activities and handouts, and we had been doing that for eight years”, says Katie, “but you send home a handout and there’s no guarantee anyone’s going to look at it, and it’s not very engaging. But texting is a way to communicate with them [parents] in an easy and convenient way that they’re already using.”
Scheduling a Semester’s Text Education
At the start of each school year, Katie and the SNAP-Ed team send home around 5,000 permission slips for the children’s participation in Body Quest. She now uses the forms to collect cell phone numbers for parents interested in following along with the program.
“It’s been a big hit since it began. We could see right off the bat that it was something that parents of third graders were willing to do…to just be involved in their kid’s nutrition education through text messaging.”
Body Quest itself lasts 15 weeks. Over that time, while nutrition educators go into the classroom, Katie and the SNAP-Ed team have scheduled their own curriculum of three text messages a week to automatically send to parents. The texts often include action oriented material that syncs up with what their children are learning. In addition to the reminders and nutrition tips they send out, they also field and respond back to questions from parents looking for more information.
At the end of the 15 weeks of Body Quest, Katie utilizes the polling feature to ask parents questions regarding the material they’ve covered. Questions like, “Have you noticed your child eating more fruits and vegetables?” and “Are you trying to drink less sugary beverages?” help the team with reporting and collecting overall success stories.
As Body Quest continues to grow, Katie and the SNAP-Ed team are just scratching the surface of their texting capabilities. Their most recent cohort yielded 4,465 parents providing their cell phone numbers and over three-fourths remained active for the full 15 weeks. Of those 77% who stayed subscribed, 96% enjoyed receiving the messages and 95% used the tips provided in the messages to work towards bettering the health of their family!
We love supporting Katie and the Alabama Extension team, and it’s our pleasure to stay connected as they continue to spread health and wellness throughout Alabama with the power of texting!