Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Understanding the State of Nutrition Education in the Head Start Classroom: A Qualitative Approach

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Understanding the State of Nutrition Education in the Head Start Classroom: A Qualitative Approach

Article excerpt

Background: Early education is important for establishing healthy eating behaviors among young children; however, the literature describing nutrition education in the preschool environment is limited. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore teacher experiences related to the incorporation of nutrition education in Head Start preschool classrooms. Methods: Between September 2011 and May 2012, investigators conducted 74 in-depth, structured interviews (31 health/nutrition coordinators, 11 center directors, and 32 teachers). Participant interviews were recorded in digital audio format and transcribed verbatim. Results: Researchers condensed identified interrelated themes into 4 categories within a substantive-level model. Outcomes revealed that teacher training/education, funding, and policies/regulations were the core factors influencing the quality and quantity of nutrition-related instruction. Discussion: The proposed model establishes a framework for understanding the state of nutrition education in the preschool environment. Teachers need more opportunities for training/education in instructional methods and nutrition content; financial support for materials; and clear, supportive policies/regulations. Translation to Health Education Practice: Teachers and administrators can use the proposed framework as an objective guide to identify the presence of these barriers in their organizations and to facilitate their ability to work together to improve the quality of nutrition education in the preschool environment.

BACKGROUND

The classroom is an ideal environment for interventions aimed at increasing knowledge, developing skills, and forming positive attitudes needed to encourage children to make healthy lifestyle choices. (1) In support of this thesis, the American Association for Health Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (2) identifies nutrition education as an important content area for school health. (3) Uniquely, the school setting provides an effective and efficient way to reach a large segment of the population, including children, school staff, and their families. (4,5) Unfortunately, the provision of nutrition education in schools has been a challenge. (6) A recent report recognized that the amount of time spent on nutrition education in the classroom has declined, along with decreased funding opportunities to support nutrition-related educational programs. (7) The current state of nutrition education in schools is important, due to the body of research supporting the positive impact that nutrition education can have on dietary behaviors. (8-10)

Dietary habits are established early in life, making preschool children an important target for nutrition education. Theoretically, the earlier a child is exposed to nutrition education, the greater the opportunity for establishing healthy habits. (11-13) Teachers are important partners for implementing these efforts through classroom-based learning. (14) Unfortunately, few studies are available to help researchers understand the factors that impact the preschool teachers' ability to teach nutrition education in their classrooms. (15) One recent study reported that teachers do not fully understand educational guidelines for nutrition. The findings revealed teachers did not clearly understand their role in teaching the subject and what qualified as nutrition education. The authors reported that teachers also lacked knowledge on how to incorporate developmentally appropriate nutrition education. (16) Furthermore, a second study demonstrated that preschool teachers might be in need of additional nutrition training and education. Researchers reported that the training preschool teachers received within their study varied greatly, with some teachers having little or no background in nutrition, while others reported having attended workshops, seminars, or taking college courses. …

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