Integrating Nutrition into the Physical Education Curriculum

By Green, Heather L. | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Integrating Nutrition into the Physical Education Curriculum


Green, Heather L., Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


Obesity among children and teens continues to be a major public health concern in the United States. Ogden and Carroll (2010) reported that approximately 16.9% of children and adolescents age 2-19 years are obese. To address this epidemic, schools have been encouraged to develop a coordinated school health program, which includes an interdisciplinary approach to nutrition education. Teachers in all subject matters, especially physical educators, are being called upon to teach nutrition education as a way to help reinforce nutrition concepts learned in the classroom (Wallen & Davis, 2010). Therefore, the purpose of this article is to: a) provide physical educators with information on how to integrate nutrition lessons into their classes, and b) to present a sample lesson that physical educators can use to incorporate nutrition into their curriculum.

Developing a Nutrition Lesson

The first goal of a nutrition lesson should be to increase students' nutrition knowledge. Recent studies have shown that students' nutrition knowledge and dietary intake have been less than optimal (Zapata, Bryant, McDermott, & Hefelfinger, 2008). In order to increase students' nutrition knowledge, the physical educator, in conjunction with the health teacher, should teach nutrition concepts such as portion size, energy balance, how to read food labels, fruit and vegetable consumption, calcium intake, vitamins and minerals, and making healthy choices. Further information to teach these concepts can be found in health books and on the internet. Table 1 provides a list of resources that can be used to develop nutrition lessons.

The second goal of a nutrition lesson should be to change behavior. Students need to learn how to use nutrition knowledge to make healthy choices. The physical educator can use the three-step Behavior Change Plan listed in Table 2 to guide students in the behavior change process. In step 1, the teacher asks students to analyze their eating behavior. Are they eating enough fruit and vegetables? Are they drinking enough milk? Do they eat breakfast every morning? In step 2, the students set realistic healthy eating goals for themselves. The teacher can suggest a goal of eating at least two fruits and three vegetables a day or suggest drinking more water instead of soda. In step 3, the students create an action plan that will help them meet their goals. An action plan to eat more fruits and vegetables might include going to the grocery store with a parent to pick out fruit or vegetables they like, being prepared by bringing fruit or vegetables to school, of choosing a piece of fruit in the lunch line instead of chips. Step 3 of the action plan also requires students to create a reward system for themselves for achieving their goals. The physical educator can set up their own reward system for students such as giving out stickers, prizes, or certificates. Progress toward the students' behavioral goals can be recorded in a behavior change journal and checked regularly by the teacher.

When developing a nutrition lesson it is important for the physical educator to make the nutrition lesson relevant to their students' individual needs. Ethnicity, age, gender, and socioeconomic status should be considered when developing a quality nutrition lesson. Consider what foods students eat and to what foods they have access. Think of healthier options the students have available to them at school or home and discuss those ideas with the students. A good example would be to have a discussion with students about after-school snacks. Suggest a bowl of low-fat popcorn instead of a bag of fried potato chips. Any amount of information the physical educator can provide students will be helpful for them to change their eating habits. Nutrition information coming from the physical educator can be very powerful in changing behaviors, since many students look up to their physical educator.

Additionally, the physical educator should consider incorporating the students' family whenever possible.

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