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Changing the school environment increases awareness about healthy eating habits

The Issue

In the past, people were aware of the important role farming played in their lives. Children, especially, have lost touch with how and where food is grown. Many children lack an understanding of the ecosystems, the land, the people, and even the plants that produce their food.

Many school districts throughout California have shown an interest in “stepping out of the box” of traditional teaching methods to incorporate agriculture into the school environment. This provides an excellent avenue for discussing food -– where it comes from, how to choose healthy foods, and factors contributing to human health, as well as planetary health issues such as composting and recycling.

What Has ANR Done?

In this project, Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, Karrie Heneman, Sharon Junge, Connie Schneider, Rosemary Carter, Amy Netemeyer, Patty Davidson and Sara Candelaria moved beyond the traditional academic role of schools, and linked healthy lifestyles at school with those of families and communities, as part of an effort to improve child health and reduce childhood overweight and obesity.

They created a school environment that: 1) established salad bars; 2) developed education and activity curricula that link school wellness programs to the state’s nutrition competencies and education content standards; 3) integrated a garden “laboratory” with nutrition education, and; 4) developed a food-waste composting system to reduce the lunch waste stream.

This intervention targeted kindergarten children attending Rock Creek Elementary School in Auburn, California and fourth- and fifth-grade children attending American Union Elementary School in Fresno, California.

The Payoff

Participating children learned to make better dietary and health choices.

Kindergartners participating in this project learned to identify that MyPyramid is a tool to assist with dietary choices, what plants need to grow, why milk is important, and that dancing -- not computer use or television watching -- is a form of exercise. The kindergartners also decreased their soda consumption.

Fourth- and fifth-graders participating in this project learned which nutrients provide energy, why calcium is important, how many food groups are in a particular meal, messages from MyPyramid about grain and vegetable choices, why aerobic exercise is important, creating a healthy goal, and how to identify food marketing schemes. The fifth-graders also increased fruit consumption and decreased cookie consumption.

The results show that this school wellness program is a successful way to increase student awareness about the importance of nutrition and physical activity.

Clientele Testimonial

“We are going to continue this program because the kids love to make salads and are eating all types of veggies and fruit.”
-Kathy Niederfrank, Vice Principal, American Union Elementary School, Fresno, California.

“This has been a good experience for the Rock Creek students, making it possible to offer these students a new eating experience. It has been fun for the school cafeteria staff and very educational for our students to see the complete food cycle, from the seed to the table. This is a wonderful program.”
–Sandy Peek, Food Service Supervisor, Auburn Union School District.

The authors thank Myriam Grajales-Hall for translation of materials. Funding for this study was provided, in part, by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Core Grants Program, Seeds of Change, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program/USDA.


Supporting Unit: Nutrition

Department of Nutrition, UC Davis
Dr. Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr
Dr. Karrie Heneman
3149 Meyer Hall
UC Davis
Phone (530)752-3817, Fax (530)752-8905