Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Assessing the Use of School Public Address Systems to Deliver Nutrition Messages to Children: Shape Up Somerville-Audio Adventures

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Assessing the Use of School Public Address Systems to Deliver Nutrition Messages to Children: Shape Up Somerville-Audio Adventures

Article excerpt

The prevalence of childhood overweight has increased dramatically since the 1970s to become one of the most alarming public health problems in the United States today. (1) To address this problem, change must take place in many areas of a child's environment to help bring the energy equation into balance. One of these environments is school lunch. Nationally, more than 28.4 million children received their lunch each day through the National School Lunch Program in fiscal year 2003. (2) While school lunch menus must adhere to federal nutrition guidelines in order to receive federal subsidies, many schools fall short? Yet other studies indicate that it is possible to make positive menu changes that improve nutrient profiles while providing adequate calories for growth. (4-7)

Dried beans, which are high in fiber, protein, several vitamins, and minerals and low in fat and sodium represent a nutritious food choice for children. There is growing evidence that fiber and other compounds found in beans may help prevent a number of chronic diseases including obesity. (8,9) Dried and canned beans are distributed to schools through US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Schools/Child Nutrition Commodity Program. (10) However, available evidence suggests that while they are a nutrient-dense food available free to cost-constrained school food service programs, they are not widely served or eaten either at school or at home. According to data from the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, only 11.9% of children aged 19 and younger consumed legumes on the day they were surveyed. (11)

While few dollars are spent to advertise beans, it is possible that positive messages could influence consumption. Advertising targeted at children has been shown to be highly effective in changing food preferences and choices, (12-15) and even 30-second messages have been shown to influence children's food preferences. (16) In informal conversations, school administrators have reported that public address (PA) systems have been used, beyond the usual daily announcements, to impart information to children in ways that they find fun and engaging. In a study designed to test the effects of lowered prices on purchase of fruit and vegetable items in high school cafeterias, announcements over the PA system were used in conjunction with signs to help promote the lower price items. (17) PA announcements have also been used as part of larger social marketing interventions in schools. (18-20) In 1 of these studies, awareness and acceptability were found to be quite high. (20) However, health messages delivered over school PA systems have not been independently evaluated for their effect on behavioral outcomes.

For the present study, the effect of messages broadcast over school PA systems on choice of dried bean dishes at school lunch was examined. If effective, this technique represents an inexpensive, easily implemented, and replicable model for delivering health messages to change nutrition-related behaviors in elementary school children.

METHODS

Design

The Shape Up Somerville--Audio Adventures study took place during the 2003-2004 school year in elementary schools in Somerville, MA, an urban, multicultural community within the Boston metropolitan area. This study was part of the larger Shape Up Somerville: Eat Smart. Play Hard[TM] project, an environmental intervention targeting elementary school children that included efforts to create changes in the in-school and after-school environments, as well as community and home environments, in order to bring energy intake and expenditure into balance.

At the start of the school year, 6 elementary schools were pair matched based on size, racial/ethnic makeup, and percentage of students receiving free or reduced school lunch. One school from each pair was randomly selected to receive a series of messages from late January through April 2004. …

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