April 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW4

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Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little

Based upon questions from Extension clientele, this program was developed to: inform consumers about facts related to nutrition issues that frequent the media; provide enough research-based information to allow consumers to make decisions about controversial issues; and provide research-based answers to nutrition myths. A pre-post opinion survey was administered to measure change in attitude about nutrition issues. Following the program, participants felt more informed about nutrition issues and had a better understanding about controversial issues.

Kathryn K. Chenoweth, C.H.E.
Extension Agent
Washington County
Marietta, Ohio
Internet address: chenoweth.1@osu.edu

Beth D. Gaydos, C.H.E.
Extension Agent
Noble and Monroe Counties
Caldwell, Ohio

Family and Consumer Sciences
Ohio State University Extension

Diet has been identified as a risk factor in the development of health problems. As a result, the demand for changes in agricultural products and the need for reliable advice on dietary habits have increased. Economic success of the food industry and the nutritional quality and safety of food are intertwined.

Consumers are looking with concern at our national food supply. Their inquiries raise doubt about the reliability of information, the safety of our food, the risk/benefit ratio of contaminants and additives, and consumer behaviors that may impact food safety.

"Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little" is a program designed to inform consumers about facts related to nutrition issues that frequent the media, to provide them enough research-based information to allow them to form their own decisions about debatable issues, and to provide answers (as research substantiates) to some nutrition myths.

Program Delivery

The primary delivery method is a presentation with overhead transparency visuals plus audience participation and discussion. An accompanying exhibit may enhance and reinforce the presentation or be used independently in a congregate setting. Professionals can use the text of the presentation to develop brief media releases.

"Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little" is aligned with the National Initiatives of ED-USDA and the State of Ohio Extension Initiatives of Improving Diet, Nutrition and Health. It reflects research from Food Science and Technology, Agricultural Production and Profitability, and Human Nutrition. The program contributes to the development of critical thinking skills in participants, allowing them to make their own informed decisions in the marketplace. It combines current food safety issues into a concise package.

"Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little" increases knowledge and understanding about the food system among consumers, policy makers, media, and food producers and handlers. It promotes trust of our safe food supply through education about laws, rules, and regulations designed to protect food supplies. It enables people to make informed decisions about the benefits and risks to health from contaminants, additives, microorganisms, and naturally occurring substances in food.

The educator may present the entire program or select particular questions to address local concerns. The program may be used as an in-service training for professionals from community agencies, such as social service, health, civic, or education. Supplemental information permits explanations to be tailored to the target audience whether youth, adults, business or agriculture community, homemakers, professionals or limited resource.

Program Evaluation

Since "Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little" was developed in early 1993, it has been presented to approximately 170 people in community group settings. In addition, about 100 professionals viewed the exhibit displaying selected questions and answers from the program. In random groups, the program was evaluated in the following manner.

A pre/post opinion survey was administered to measure change in attitude about the issues. Each survey card contained a different core of five of the twenty-eight issues covered in the program. Participants were asked to rate their level of concern about each issue as "no," "little," "some," or "much." The audience members were given a different survey card after the presentation than before.

Prior to the presentation, 79% of the people felt "some" or "much" concern about the issues. These two categories decreased to 43% following the presentation. After the presentation, 64% felt "little" or "no" concern about the issues. This represented an increase in the two categories of 34%.

The participants felt more informed about the facts behind the issues that frequent the media. They better understood some of the information surrounding the controversial issues allowing them to form their own decisions and they felt some of their questions had been answered. In general, they felt they were better able to put into perspective the issues at hand.

Marketing Strategies

Extension networks through which the program was marketed include: a speaker's bureau brochure, media releases and appearances, and community coalitions. Family and Consumer Scientists on the forefront of their profession can address the complex issues in a nonthreatening, timely manner. The universal subject matter makes the program applicable to all segments of the population. The program is a natural for bringing together the health, environmental, and agricultural communities. With the knowledge from "Trust the Experts, Not Chicken Little," responsible consumers will improve their ability to make informed choices related to food quality, safety and consumption.

Author Notes

If you need additional information contact: Kathryn K. Chenoweth, C.H.E., Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, 205 Putnam Street, Marietta, OH 45750, 614/373-6623 Ext. 274.