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Nutrition Education in Public Elementary School Classrooms, K-5
NCES: 2000040
March 2000

Highlights

About half of elementary school teachers (52 percent) have had formal training to teach about nutrition (Figure 2).

  • With a few exceptions, teachers generally reported high availability of resources in support of nutrition education, including healthy cafeteria meals (82 percent), reference materials (74 percent), support for use of instructional time (70 percent), and a written policy or guidelines (57 percent) (Table 3). Fewer teachers reported availability of high quality in service training in nutrition education (27 percent) and a coordinated school nutrition policy (37 percent). By region, teachers from the Southeast reported greater availability of both these resources than teachers from other regions.


  • Despite research indicating the importance of the resources noted above, teachers do not view access to these resources as the only thing needed to improve nutrition education (Table 4). About 30 percent of teachers indicated that healthy school cafeteria meals, support for use of instructional time, and reference materials at school would improve nutrition education to a great extent. About one-fifth indicated that high quality in service training would improve it to a great extent.


  • Eighty-eight percent of elementary school teachers reported that they taught lessons about nutrition to their students in the 1996-97 school year (Table 5). More kindergarten through second-grade teachers (92 percent) taught nutrition than did third- through fifth-grade teachers (83 percent).


  • Approximately one-third of teachers (35 percent) who taught nutrition taught it as a separate subject, and about the same proportion integrated nutrition lessons to a great extent into health and physical education (39 percent) and science (33 percent) (Table 6 and 7). Fewer of these teachers integrated nutrition lessons to a great extent into reading and language arts (14 percent), history and social studies, and mathematics (4 and 5 percent, respectively).


  • The mean number of hours spent in a school year on nutrition education by elementary school teachers who taught nutrition was 13, below the minimum of 50 hours thought to be necessary for impact on behavior (Table 5).


  • Teachers reported they employed active learning strategies and did not rely exclusively on traditional lecturing methods for nutrition education. Active learning strategies, such as active discussion (57 percent), handson learning (29 percent), and collaborative work (27 percent), were used to a great extent by the most teachers (Table 8). Teachers of grades K-2, teachers with higher levels of support for nutrition education from their schools, and teachers with college training in nutrition education were all more likely to use some active learning strategies to a moderate or great extent in their nutrition instruction (Table 9).


  • While about half (48 percent) of elementary school teachers who teach nutrition reported no barriers to cooperation with their school meals program staff in providing nutrition education (Table 12), those who did report barriers tended to focus on the following: lack of instructional time and time on the part of the meals program staff, being unsure of what activities are possible, and difficulty of schedule coordination between teachers and meals program staff.


  • Teachers with higher levels of support from their schools, and teachers with college training in nutrition education utilized family involvement strategies for nutrition education more often than teachers with lower levels of support and those with no training, respectively (Table 14). For example, teachers with high levels of support were more likely to include parents in nutrition homework assignments (85 percent) compared to teaches with low levels of support (66 percent); and teachers with college coursework in nutrition education were more likely to include parents in nutrition homework assignments (22 percent) compared to teaches with no training (48 percent).


  • When teachers who taught nutrition were asked whether the instructional materials they used were of high quality, about one in four said they were up to date to a great extent (24 percent), 41 percent said that they were age appropriate to a great extent, and 23 percent said that they were appealing to students to a great extent (Table 15). About one in five reported having enough materials for all their students to a great extent (21 percent), and about the same proportion (19 percent) reported that they did not have enough materials for all students.

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