Dr. Claudia Probart, associate professor of nutrition and leader of the study, says, "Initially, the respondents did not see that school meals play a role in childhood obesity. It's important for school personnel to be aware of the problem in order to be part of the solution in an appropriate way."
"After the respondents had participated in Project PA, they recognized their role and the school's ability to help deal with the problem," she adds.
Project PA is a collaboration between Penn State's Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Division of Food and Nutrition. The partnership offers training and support for schools and their communities to provide sound nutrition education and to promote children's healthy eating behaviors.
Probart detailed the results in a paper, "Master Instructor Training Program for School Food Service Personnel Related to Childhood Obesity," at the American Dietetic Association meeting, Oct. 27, in San Antonio, Texas. Her co-authors are Elaine T. McDonnell, instructor and project coordinator; Catherine Nguyen, an undergraduate student; and Heather J. Snow, a master's degree candidate in nutrition.
In the study, school service personnel who participated in a Project PA workshop were quizzed before and after training about their attitudes on childhood obesity. The respondents identified parental attitudes, peer pressure, and media as top barriers to students' healthful eating behaviors prior to participating in the training. After the training, they saw the lack of nutrition education in the curriculum as a barrier and nutrition lessons as an effective strategy to increase healthful eating behaviors.