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The Food Trust’s School Nutrition Education Program: Teaching Children and Families to Make Healthy Food Choices

The Food Trust’s School Nutrition Education program provides more than 50,000 children annually with education on healthy eating and related fun learning activities. The program serves about 100 schools, where more than half of children are eligible for free or reduced cost school meals. Trust activities include classroom nutrition lessons, student-run fresh fruit and smoothie markets to teach students about healthy snacking and running a small business (shown in the photo below), parent workshops, field trips to local farms, and school-wide events, such as taste-tests and assemblies. The program also provides teachers with monthly nutrition education materials and lesson plans to incorporate nutrition into their curriculum.

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The Trust’s school-based nutrition education program has been shown to reduce the incidence of childhood overweight by 50%, offering a potential means of preventing childhood obesity on a large scale. These results were the culmination of a 2-year study of 10 elementary schools in Philadelphia, conducted in partnership with Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education. In the five intervention schools, Trust staff worked with principals, teachers, and other school staff to implement a multi-faceted nutrition policy and education program that included healthier school snacks and beverages, at least 50 hours of nutrition education per student each year, 10 hours of teachers training annually, social marketing to promote healthy eating, and outreach to parents and families. At the end of 2 years, only 7.5% of children became overweight in intervention schools, compared with 15% of children in control schools. Of note, improving the school environment through a comprehensive nutrition policy and education program also was associated with fewer student absences.

The research study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, was reported in more than 100 newspapers and other media outlets. Based on these findings, the American Heart Association named The Food Trust’s School Nutrition Policy Initiative as one of the top ten annual major advances in heart disease and stroke research. Noting that “literally hundreds” of programs have been developed to address childhood overweight and obesity, the American Heart Association singled out The Food Trust’s comprehensive school-based nutrition education and policy initiative for its rigorous evaluation component, which found that the program reduced the incidence of overweight students by 50 percent. The AHA said: “These results suggest that carefully designed, multi-component programs can have an important impact on this serious epidemic.”

Sandy Sherman, EdD is the director of nutrition education at The Food Trust.


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