The Impact of Nutrition Education on the Winnebago Indian Reservation

Year: 2001

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: Smith, Michelle, Leona Zastrow, and Sharon Frenchman

Institution: Little Priest Tribal College

Project Contact:
Michele Smith, R.N., Coordinator
Whirling Thunder Wellness Program
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
Box 687
Winnebago, NE 68071
Phone: 402-878-3187


The Winnebago Indian Reservation is located in Thurston County, NE, and comprises approximately 113,000 acres. There are 2,341 people who live on the reservation, with 1,156 declaring membership in a Native American tribe. A recent study found that obesity has become more prevalent on the reservation. The rate of obesity increased from 28 percent of the reservation residents in 1991 to 43 percent of residents in 1996. Because obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, the results of the study prompted the organization of a community task force, which developed four principles for community programs in diabetes prevention. One of the four principles is that nutrition would be addressed at the community, school, and clinical level.

The authors’ first objective was to understand the nutrition guidelines and nutrition components of the food assistance programs available on the Winnebago reservation. They interviewed the directors of Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the Summer Feeding Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)—known on the reservation as the Commodities Program—the school meals programs, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Senior Citizens Program. They found great variation in the degree to which nutrition education was provided through each of the programs. The Head Start Program and Summer Feeding Program included nutrition education as part of their daily curriculum. The school meals programs and the Senior Citizen Program provided nutrition workshops for their clients. The Food Stamp Program, FDPIR, and WIC provided pamphlets on nutrition to their clients.

The second objective of the research was to conduct a pilot evaluation of nutrition education classes offered to mothers who received WIC benefits or whose children were enrolled in the Head Start Program. The classes taught healthful food preparation techniques. Nine classes were held during October and November of 2000. All the mothers participated in the Food Stamp Program or FDPIR and at least two other food assistance programs. Class participants completed surveys before and after receiving the nutrition education classes. The participants reported some changes in their food choices and food preparation techniques. After completing the course, more reported that they chose fresh fruits and vegetables and reduced-fat dairy products. They also reported changes in food preparation, such as a reduction in frying food or adding gravy to foods. All participants reported positive physical and emotional changes after attending the classes.

The authors recommend that the study be replicated with more participants over a longer time period to evaluate physical or emotional changes in the participants and their families. They also recommend that nutrition education classes on food preparation be provided to clients of all food assistance programs on the reservation, with a particular focus on the selection and preparation of healthy foods. A final recommendation is to increase the coordination between reservation food programs and their nutrition education components.