Food-Related Beliefs, Eating Behavior, and Classroom Food Practices of Middle School Teachers. (Research Papers)

By Kubik, Martha Y.; Lytle, Leslie A. et al. | Journal of School Health, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Food-Related Beliefs, Eating Behavior, and Classroom Food Practices of Middle School Teachers. (Research Papers)


Kubik, Martha Y., Lytle, Leslie A., Hannan, Peter J., Story, Mary, Perry, Cheryl L., Journal of School Health


The 1996 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Guidelines for School Health Programs to Promote Lifelong Healthy Eating focused attention on the critical role of schools in promoting and supporting development of healthy dietary behavior in school-aged youth. (1) This document was one of the first to recognize the specific influence of the school environment on students' eating patterns. It also identified factors such as foods offered students from vending machines and a la carte programs, the role modeling behavior of school personnel, and normative practices like teacher use of low-nutritive foods as student incentives/rewards as important factors that influence young people's development of healthy eating patterns. (1) While research examining certain factors, such as vending and a la carte, has increased, (2-4) other factors like the food-related classroom practices and eating behavior of teachers have received little attention.

The notion that teachers influence students' dietary practices is supported by health behavior theories, such as Bronfenbrenner's ecological model (5) and Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory, (6) which recognize that significant adults, like teachers, influence youth behavior through role modeling, normative practices, and social support. Teachers also have ample opportunity to influence young people's eating patterns, given their close proximity to and repeated contact with students during the school day. How well, then, do actions of teachers support adoption of healthy eating patterns by school-aged youth? To the authors' knowledge, no published studies have examined food-related role modeling behavior of teachers, and the limited data available regarding teacher use of food as a student incentive/reward is generally elementary school-focused (7,8) or anecdotal in nature. (9) Moreover, empirical studies that examine factors influencing these behaviors are not available.

This study increased understanding of the food-related practices and behavior of teachers in today's school environment, and it expanded current knowledge beyond the elementary school setting by choosing middle school teachers as the study sample. Questions addressed included: 1) Is use of food as an incentive/reward by middle school teachers a common classroom practice? 2) What types of foods are used as incentives/rewards? 3) What eating behaviors do teachers role model at school? 4) Do personal health and eating practices, attitudes, and beliefs about the school food environment and demographic characteristics of teachers influence teachers' eating behavior at school and their classroom food practices?

METHODS

Sample

The population for this research consisted of a convenience sample of teachers in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade from 16 schools in the St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn., metropolitan area who participated in the Teens Eating for Energy and Nutrition at School (TEENS) study. (10) TEENS was a school-based dietary intervention trial, which sought to promote healthful dietary behavior among young adolescents to reduce future cancer risk. (10) Thirty-three schools representing 14 districts were eligible to participate in the study. Eligible schools were required to have both seventh and eighth grades in one building, an enrollment of at least 30 students in each grade, and a minimum of 20% of students approved for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Twenty schools representing nine districts agreed to participate. Of the 20 schools, one was chosen to pilot evaluation and intervention materials, and three were judged ineligible due to scheduling conflicts. The remaining 16 schools formed the TEENS school sample. Teachers from each school who taught students in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade, were eligible to participate. Schools provided a list of teachers meeting these criteria, for a total of 701 teachers. …

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