Background on Individual Education
What are individual education strategies?
- Individual education interventions work to increase consumption of nutritious foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, multigrain cereals, fish) by enhancing individual knowledge and skills as well as altering attitudes and beliefs about nutrition.
- Your intervention may focus specifically on increasing people’s awareness of the importance of paying attention to what they eat by providing information, teach the skills necessary to begin eating a more nutritious diet, address barriers to changing one’s eating patterns over time, or include some combination of these strategies to consider the readiness or specific health conditions of individuals or groups in your community.
- Individual education interventions should be culturally sensitive, involve family and friends, and incorporate the individual’s readiness to change behavior, as appropriate.
How can I use individual education strategies in nutrition interventions?
- The specific strategies used differ based on the focus of the intervention. For example, information (e.g., short- and long-term benefits of changing eating patterns or risks of eating non-nutritious foods) may be provided through individual counseling sessions or self-help materials such as newsletters, brochures, posters, fact sheets, recipes, videos, or websites.
- Other strategies may provide cues to actiono remind people to eat nutritious foods (e.g., shopping lists, calendar reminders, refrigerator magnets) rather than specifically increasing knowledge.
- Most individual education interventions provide information to individuals, with some offering individuals opportunities to ask questions or get clarification (e.g., through a face to face session with a health educator).
How do “tailored messages” and “targeted messages” differ? How can I use these messages in nutrition interventions?
- Individual education interventions may work best when information is matched to the individual. These “tailored messages” take into account specific individual characteristics in creating a nutrition message. Materials or strategies may be developed specifically to meet an individual’s characteristics in terms of readiness to change, attitudes, beliefs, current eating patterns and other lifestyle characteristics. The concept of readiness to change (drawn from the Transtheoretical Model or Stages of Change) suggests that individuals may need different kinds of interventions to help them address nutrition depending on how ready they are to change their behaviors. For example, nutrition may not be a high priority for some individuals while others may have thought about changing what they eat but don’t know how to begin. Yet, others may be attentive to what they eat but have difficulty maintaining certain eating patterns over time.
- Tailored health education materials are developed based on characteristics that are unique to each individual; therefore, an individual assessment (e.g., survey, interview) is required in order to collect information specific to the individual.
- Alternately, other materials or strategies may be geared toward a specific subgroup of the population of interest (e.g., individuals who have already developed heart disease, older adults). These are often called “targeted messages” because they consider the specific needs of this subpopulation. In a similar manner, these strategies can be used to influence groups of people (e.g., consider dietary restrictions for those with heart disease, reduce portion sizes for less active older adults), but they are not specific to each individual.
- Both tailored and targeted strategies can be delivered at one time or at regular intervals (e.g., weekly, monthly or quarterly). The intervention information can appear in the form of print, telephone, video or computer kiosk messages.
What is an example of a tailored message?
- A recommendation to change eating patterns may take into account the following information about the individual:
- Joan has been thinking about changing her eating patterns, she is concerned because several members of her extended family have already developed diabetes. She believes that eating less fat and more fruits and vegetables may help her decrease her chances of developing diabetes. But she also knows that her children do not like it when she changes what she prepares for dinner. In this case, a message can be designed for Joan as follows:
- “Congratulations Joan! Thinking about eating more fruits and vegetables and less fat is the first step to reducing your risks of developing diabetes. Even though your family may be concerned about changes in what you prepare for meals, there are ways you can modify your existing recipes to include less fat and increase the vegetables you and your family members consume. You can also start having fresh fruits and vegetables available for snacks between meals. This way you can improve your eating patterns as well as those of your family.”
What is skill building and how can I use it in nutrition interventions?
- Another common individual education approach that is used to address nutrition is building the skills to change behavior. Skill building strategies, including meal and menu planning as well as recipe development or alteration, can be tailored to individuals or targeted to the population of interest.
What else do I need to consider for asthma management interventions?
- Some studies describe advantages of an interactive, web-based tailored intervention over a more traditional print version, including: the ability to receive immediate feedback, an interactive nature similar to interpersonal counseling, and the ability to use graphics and other features to increase interest and attention. Furthermore, once on the web, the tailored intervention can reach a relatively larger group of people making it more cost-effective. In addition, it can be updated continuously to tailor to the most recent knowledge of determinants of dietary change or new products on the food market.