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Impact of a teacher intervention to encourage students to eat school lunch

  • Program: School Health and Wellness
  • A healthy diet during childhood is critical for preventing chronic disease, yet the majority of US youth do not meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Schools offer a unique opportunity to intervene to improve youth dietary intake; the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is in the vast majority of public schools and is accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. While school meals are often the healthiest option for students, lunch participation remains relatively low. There are many approaches to increasing student participation, but few have focused on leveraging the social influence of adults. This study provides insight into an under-studied, but important topic: teacher perceptions and behaviors surrounding school lunch. Few studies have explored teacher perceptions of school meals, with no known intervention studies on the topic. The objective of this study was to determine if an intervention to educate teachers about the benefits of school lunch could improve teachers’ perceptions of school lunch, participation in school lunch, and encouraging students to eat school lunch. This was a repeated cross-sectional study with survey administration in spring of 2016 and 2018 involving 19 public secondary schools (9 intervention, 10 comparison) and teachers (n=1,089) and students (n=8,813). The teacher intervention consisted of: a monthly newsletter; lunch taste tests; promotional video; and website with suggested classroom activities. We used linear and logistic mixed effects models with a random effect for school to examine differences in changes in teacher perceptions of school meals, frequency of school-lunch participation, and encouraging students to eat school lunch; student perceptions of teacher encouragement to eat school lunch between groups. The proportion of teachers reporting eating with students increased in intervention schools relative to control schools (difference-in-change 7.6%), as did student agreement that adults at their schools encouraged them to eat school lunch (difference-in-change 0.15 on 5-point scale). There were no between-group differences in teachers’ perceptions of school meals or in teachers’ lunch participation. These results indicate that teacher perceptions of school meals do not necessarily need to be improved for teachers to promote the program to students. In addition, findings suggest that an outreach intervention alone is not sufficient for increasing teacher school lunch participation; the taste and appeal of school meals likely needs to be improved as well. Future studies should explore determinants of teacher perceptions and values related to school meals as potential levers for improving participation in the school lunch program.
Hannah Thompson
UC Berkeley School of Public Health
Assitant Research Professor
  • Linked Session ID: 941941
  • Authors: Hannah Thompson, PhD, MPH1, Stephanie Machado, DrPH2, Kristine Madsen, MD, MPH1, Renata Cauchon-Robles3, Marisa Neelon, MS4, Lorrene Ritchie, PhD5
    1UC Berkeley School of Public Health, 2Cal State Chico, 3San Francisco Unified School District, 4UC Cooperative Extension, 5UCANR Nutrition Policy Institute
  • Learning Outcome 1: Describe barriers to students’ school lunch participation and the potential for a teacher-focused intervention to address those barriers.
  • Learning Outcome 2: Describe the theoretical framework underlying an intervention to increase student and teacher lunch participation.
  • Learning Outcome 3: Describe lessons learned from this study for other educators/public health practitioners hoping to intervene in this space.
  • Linked Session Title: Physical Activity and Nutrition in School Settings