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Nutrition education improves academic performance

The Issue

Since the 1970s, the percentage of overweight children has tripled and continues to rise. At the same time, schools are under increased pressure to show improved academic performance in subjects such as math and language arts. The California Board of Education established content standards for each grade level for most subjects and academic performance is evaluated through standardized testing. The results determine the school’s Academic Performance Index. EatFit is a curriculum designed to improve the eating and physical activity habits of 11- to 14-year-old students. The program includes nine lessons with an online assessment (www.eatfit.net) and uses guided goal setting to help students make positive behavior changes. Students apply math concepts in EatFit -- such as rate, percentage, average and mathematical reasoning -- while learning how to improve their food choices and increase physical activity. They also learn to analyze and evaluate advertisements, improving their language arts skills. Previous studies using the curriculum have demonstrated the effectiveness of EatFit in changing eating and activity habits. While EatFit and most other UC ANR nutrition education curricula are aligned with the California content standards for math and language arts, testing whether teaching a curriculum aligned with the standards actually results in increased test scores had not been done. Can the need for nutrition education and academic performance be met simultaneously?

What Has ANR Done?

UC specialists, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and staff collaborated with a school district in Tulare County serving low-income students to see whether implementing the EatFit curriculum improved the students’ standardized test scores. Knowledge of specific math and language arts topics of students in three 6th-grade classrooms was tested five weeks prior to the education intervention, immediately before the EatFit intervention and after the EatFit intervention.

The Payoff

EatFit improves math and language arts test scores

The EatFit intervention was shown to have a positive impact on student achievement of selected 6th-grade content standards for mathematics and language arts: 70 percent of the students improved their algebra and function skills, 38 percent improved their statistics skills, 39 percent improved in mathematical reasoning, and 70 percent improved their listening and speaking skills. Ninety-nine percent of students made an improvement in at least one of the content standards. No improvement in test scores was seen prior to the EatFit intervention.

Clientele Testimonial

“The students enjoy the hands-on activities. They don’t realize they’re learning math and language arts — they’re having fun while adopting good eating and physical activity habits.” - 6th grade teacher, Tulare County, Calif.


Supporting Unit: Tulare County

Cathi Lamp, (559) 685-3309 Ext. 218, cllamp@ucdavis.edu