Dr. Terry T.K. Huang, Professor at the CUNY School of Public Health, along with colleagues studied the role of school design in shaping health eating-related attitudes, practices and behaviors among school staff. Their research was published in the Journal of School Health.
[Photo: Dr. Terry Huang]
The aims of this study were to identify and describe patterns and themes regarding school staff perceptions, experiences, and use of the school food environment prior to and following a school renovation; to evaluate the impact of the school renovation on the adoption of school policies, programs, and practices that promote healthy eating; and to evaluate the impact of the school renovation on healthy eating-related attitudes, classroom practices, and personal behaviors among school staff.
A school district in Virginia consolidated its elementary school and incorporated architectural features to support healthy eating. The researchers administered surveys and in-depth interviews prior to at 12 months post occupancy. Survey measures included validated scales from Teen Eating for Energy and Nutrition at School survey, Healthy School Food Environment scale, Children and Healthy Eating measured beliefs scale, the Negative Classroom Food Practices scale as well as a 17-item fat and a 7-item fruit and vegetable screener.
The school implemented new policies and programs, including staff wellness activities. There was a significant decrease in the percent of teachers with a high-fat diet. The consolidation removed many physical barriers. In the renovated school, staff health and wellness became a significant focus. at both pre- and post-occupancy, staff indicated the importance of exposure to healthy foods, increasing healthy options, and improving the taste and quality of healthy items. Among the new challenges identified were lack of sufficient storage space and problems with the kitchen layout. Other issues included lack of sufficient time for meals and lack of or limited healthy food choices.
The researchers found promising evidence that school architecture can support and help address healthy eating. More research is needed to enhance influence of the physical environment, and to test complementary strategies such as improving ownership of space and increasing self-efficacy to manage space.