UMass Amherst Professor Helps Connect Public Health Faculty With Statewide Nutrition Programs

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts has linked its School of Public Health and Health Sciences and statewide nutrition programs for low-income families, now that Meredith N. Pearson has joined the UMass department of nutrition. Pearson, appointed to the faculty this fall, also serves as program leader and specialist for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), a key element of the Nutrition Education Program (NEP) of UMass Extension.

The dual faculty/EFNEP appointment is a comfortable one for Pearson, and it helps the University fulfill the key roles of research, teaching, and outreach, she says. "In a land-grant institution,it’s important that the extension people are integrated into the faculty," Pearson says. "This is a nice fit - I stay in contact with both the paraprofessionals in the field and the faculty here, and it helps focus our research."

Pearson says she spends 20 percent of her time doing research and the remaining 80 percent serving as coordinator of extension’s nutrition education programs. NEP includes EFNEP, which has eight regional offices and 21 health educators serving all of Massachusetts. EFNEP offers nutrition education to low-income families with young children. Another extension program, the Family Nutrition Program (FNP), is in its second year and is funded with $754,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program provides nutrition education to food-stamp recipients. Other NEP programs focus on food safety, nutrition, and wellness.

Peter Pellett, who chairs the UMass nutrition department, says Pearson provides a necessary direct liaison between the educators and volunteers in the field and University faculty. Pellett also notes that the faculty position Pearson now occupies was formerly part of the UMass College of Food and Natural Resources. Now that it’s in the nutrition department, it has shifted to the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. "After all, nutrition is a critical public health issue," Pellett says.

Current services offered by NEP include counseling eligible families and those in the Food Stamp and Women, Infants and Children (WIC)programs. NEP also is working with the state Department of Food and Agriculture to run education programs at farmer’s markets around the state, with Russian immigrants in the Springfield area, and with Haitian immigrants in Brockton, Pearson says.

Pearson, a Rhode Island native, comes to the University from Kansas State University, where she earned her doctorate. As a member of the nutrition faculty there, she trained extension professionals and headed EFNEP and FNP in Kansas.