Increasing Seafood Consumption among Populations with Heart Health Risks

Ingrid Adams
Ingrid Adams
Ingrid Adam’s i-Three Issue Corps project addresses the issue of low seafood consumption in low-income populations and their higher risk of heart disease with an education program on the benefits of eating seafood. The impact she is seeking is to convince these families to eat seafood two times per week. When Ingrid arrived at the NeXC2016 Conference, she and Jennifer Austin, her project partner, had launched a trial of their planned program and were dissatisfied with the results. Key informants at the conference challenged Ingrid to rethink her approach, both how she was offering her program and her messaging. The Designathon helped her reconceptualize her project to create a new format that engages her audience where they shop rather than in a classroom and revise her messaging from an emphasis on “what the research says” to “how choosing seafood is in the interest of your family.” An outcome is an innovative approach to engaging low-income populations in nutrition education that she hopes can be adopted and successfully practiced at Extension programs across the country. Ingrid is an Associate Extension Professor with the University of Kentucky.

Engaging low-income populations in nutrition education programming is notoriously difficult. When Ingrid Adams, University of Kentucky Associate Extension Professor and Specialist in Nutrition and Weight Management proposed her i-Three Issue Corps project, she knew that audience engagement could be a challenge from the outset.

When asked how her i-Three Issue Corps and NeXC2016 experience helped her, Ingrid replies, “It made me think about the future, about changing how we do business, about meeting people where they are to increase our impact.”

Ingrid’s Issue Corps project addresses the issue of higher incidences of heart disease in low-income populations caused by unbalanced diets. In particular, research shows that low-income families and individuals typically do not include enough seafood in their diets to get the heart-healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

“I had an opportunity to partner with a national association, the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which is conducting an intervention in eight cities, including Lexington, Clark County, Kentucky,” recalls Ingrid. “We use research and focus on encouraging the low-income audience to prevent heart disease by increasing their consumption of seafood to two times per week.”

Creating a New Model

Prior to eXtension’s NeXC2016 Conference in March, Ingrid, in collaboration with Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Jennifer Austin, launched their first education outreach, offering a 1.5-hour class session one night each week for four weeks at the Extension Office. Eight families attended the four-week session, but by the follow-up session, only one family returned for the session where Ingrid and Jennifer planned to collect their impact evaluation data. As an experienced educator and specialist who has consistently won recognition for the content and approach of her programs, Ingrid arrived at eXtension’s March NeXC2016 wondering: “Now what? What do we try next?”

At the conference, the Designathon held for Issue Corp members introduced Ingrid to concept mapping, encouraging her to rethink her original education delivery plan. She also met with a key-informant expert in communications and marketing who challenged her to consider: “Why not take your program to where your audiences are and keep your presentations short, concise and high energy—no more than 15 minutes? More like the Ignite Sessions at the NeXC conference?”

When Ingrid returned to Kentucky, she launched a whole new approach.  She developed relationships with local food pantries, WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and Head Start to gain access to their audiences. She effectively condensed her presentation to 15-minute sessions followed by demonstrations and taste testing. As part of the research process at the food pantries, she identified all the seafood products they carried and created product lists. She tagged the shelves to identify where the seafood products were located, and she created short, simple recipes for handout–she even cooked one up to share!

“It’s important to weave critical thinking throughout this approach,” she says. “It’s empowering for people to see how the choices they make can be in the best interest of their children and families.”

The response has been gratifying. Food-pantry clients are engaged by the quick, convenient on-site approach and often take immediate action, selecting seafood products and carrying away the recipes and product lists. Tracking seafood inventory following presentations informs impact evaluation.

Discovering the Best Message

When asked how her i-Three Issue Corps and NeXC2016 experience helped her, Ingrid replies, “It made me think about the future, about changing how we do business, about meeting people where they are to increase our impact.”

In particular, advice provided by Ingrid’s Issue Corps key informant prompted her to rethink how she was shaping her messages. Advised to talk with members of her audiences more about why they might now want to increase their consumption of seafood, she learned that they were far less interested in research findings on lowering the risk of heart disease than in wanting to be sure they would be around for their children and grandchildren–that they would live to know them well and to enjoy them.

“My Issue Corps experience completely changed my project from focusing on persuading with research and content to making sure I started working to get people to the table and empowering them by talking about what was important to them.” she says.

Originally Ingrid intended her project to refine her traditionally modeled program, then offer it to Kentucky Extension educators statewide. Now she aspires to refine her new approach and messaging, then scale up her new model for use by Extension professionals nationwide for connecting with low-income audiences to deliver nutrition and health education.