Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Outcomes from a School-Based Nutrition Education Program Alternating Special Resource Teachers and Classroom Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Outcomes from a School-Based Nutrition Education Program Alternating Special Resource Teachers and Classroom Teachers

Article excerpt

The link between diet and chronic diseases is well-recognized.[1-3] Behaviors affecting these diseases are learned early in life,[4,5] supporting the need for prevention efforts targeting children. School interventions can provide a systematic and efficient means to improve children's health by offering access to almost all children, providing opportunities to practice healthy eating, and involving skilled professionals such as teachers and school food service personnel.[6-10]

Despite successful school intervention,[11] schools do not typically incorporate enough nutrition in the curricula to influence dietary behaviors. Numerous factors influence classroom implementation, such as support of school administrators, resources, and teacher training,[10,11] but teachers are viewed as central to the implementation process. In elementary schools, the classroom teachers, not specialists, traditionally teach health/nutrition education.[12,13] Factors that influence the likelihood that a teacher will conduct health/nutrition education include personal variables such as teacher training, self-efficacy, and teachers' feelings of comfort and preparedness.[11,14,17] To assure program implementation, some studies[11,18] bypassed classroom teachers and used other information providers, such as nurses, older peers, and food service workers. Another study[19] teamed the classroom teacher, a college nutrition student (nutrition expert), and a parent (extra pair of hands) to conduct nutrition lessons.

In past studies, the Integrated Nutrition Project (INP)[10] used special resource teachers (SRT) for nutrition program implementation of 24 lessons and achieved significant behavior changes in children and classroom teacher acceptance of the program. The specialist overcame usual barriers to program implementation: time pressure,[20] teachers' lack of confidence in teaching nutrition, lack of teacher training,[21] and program infidelity.[22,23] The SRT influenced the teachers' willingness to provide nutrition education through year-long weekly modeling.

This study tested the efficacy of a reduced dose intervention. An alternating SRT/classroom teacher model that led to similar behavioral outcomes would 1) yield greater SRT reach (more total classrooms); 2) involve classroom teachers in structured bi-weekly instruction, increasing their experience and confidence; and 3) provide a greater likelihood for ongoing teacher involvement and program institutionalization.


Goals of the INP, an ongoing (since 1994) elementary school nutrition education program, include achieving sustained dietary behavior change in children and establishing nutrition education as part of elementary education. The children's intervention blends Social Cognitive Theory[24] with Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory.[25] A critical component involves use of special resource teachers (SRT) to conduct nutrition lessons and provide a role model for the classroom teacher. The SRTs are trained in experiential learning educational approaches and they have previous elementary classroom experience. Objectives in the 1997-1998 school year were to: 1) determine if 16 nutrition lessons, taught alternately by the SRT and classroom teacher, could result in outcomes equivalent to previous outcomes when 24 lessons were taught exclusively by the SRT, 10 and 2) assess teachers' reactions to the model.

A cross-sectional, quasi-experimental pretest (early fall) posttest (late spring) design was used to compare children in treatment and comparison classrooms from different schools matched on ethnic distribution of students (_90% Hispanic), SES (more than 80% of students on free- or reduced-price school lunches), and school lunch style (offer vs. serve). Two treatment and two comparison schools provided 38 classes and approximately 760 students.

Teachers in treatment and comparison schools self-selected to participate; three of 19 treatment teachers previously had the SRT in their classrooms. …

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