The Teaching of Food Guide Pyramid Concepts by Nebraska Elementary School Educators

Article excerpt

Scholarship and Practice

ABSTRACT

This study is an analysis of food selection education, using the Food Guide Pyramid (FGP), to students in grades one through four. Written questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of teachers in Nebraska. The response rate was 37.77%. Over two-thirds of the 464 teachers from 70% of the 93 counties responded that nutrition should have very high to high priority in the elementary curriculum. One-half of the respondents claim they utilize commercially and self-prepared materials, food pictures, and actual foods. Age is a significant factor in the differences (p < .05) observed in an educator's response regarding frequency of teaching FGP concepts. Most respondents teach FGP concepts sometimes. Two-thirds of respondents have bad some training in nutrition.

Eating habits developed during childhood influence the health of individuals throughout their lives. A "comprehensive and sequential program in nutrition education ... as an integral part of the curriculum of every school in the U.S." was recommended three decades ago in the report of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health (1969). As a result, the federal Nutrition Education and Training Program was established (Public Law 95166, 1977). Researchers then assessed nutrition education in schools (Maretzki, 1979; Soliah et al., 1983) and designed nutrition education frameworks and curriculum (Skinner et al., 1985). School principals and teachers were encouraged to include nutrition education in the curriculum at all grade levels (Roberts and Peck, 1990).

Healthy People 2000 objectives for disease prevention encourage schools to provide nutrition education from preschool through 12th grade (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1991). A Healthy People 2010 objective indicates that the intake of meals and snacks at schools by children and adolescents should contribute to "good overall dietary quality" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). An intervention study suggests that school is a potentially important site for improving children's dietary and physical activity habits and that these changes are possible (Simons-Morton et al., 1991). Nutrition education is particularly important for elementary school children, because of the impact nutrition can have on their health. Children need the opportunity to learn how to consume foods that promote growth and development. Teachers can direct students toward good health practices by providing them with appropriate skills and environmental reinforcements. Nutrition education programming is a national issue for schools and families (Mullis, Owen, and Blaskovich, 1995).

The Food Guide Pyramid (FGP) (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992) is a dynamic educational tool that helps individuals put the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services, 2000) into practice. The FGP is based on current nutrition recommendations and nutrient composition of foods. The FGP may be utilized in educating individuals about food selection in terms of variety, moderation, and proportionality, as well as consumption of diets low in fat, saturated fat, and sugar.

We do not have enough adequate information to know if elementary teachers use the FGP to teach students food selection and how food selection relates to health. This research documents the manner in which elementary school teachers, grades one through four, in Nebraska, utilize the FGP as an instructional tool. Specific objectives of this research were to survey elementary school teachers as to (1) what resources were used in teaching the FGP; (2) what priority the teaching of nutrition should have in the elementary curriculum; (3) units) in which nutrition concepts were taught; (4) how often various concepts included in the FGP were taught; and (5) nutrition training of the teachers. The effects of gender, grades) taught, teaching experience, and region of the state responses were also investigated. …