Program

Sep 12, 2007
OVERVIEWChildren Get a Head Start on the Road to Good Nutrition is
a curriculum guide created to improve the nutritional education given to
children participating in the Head Start program. This guide was
created to be easier to use than previous nutritional curriculum, to have a
multicultural focus and to be self-contained so that no other materials were
necessary. Sixteen Head Start grantees volunteered to participate in
this field test. Classrooms from these sites were then randomly
assigned to either experimental or control groups. A field test of this
curriculum found that the use of the curriculum led to improved food and
nutrition attitudes as well as increases in positive food behavior, such as
asking for low sugar snacks or willingness to try a variety of foods.DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Children participating in the
Head Start program, predominantly 3-5 year olds from low-income families.

The curriculum was designed so that it could be easily
integrated into already existing Head Start programs. It was divided
into eight units, each unit made up of three sections. The first
section of each unit contained the goals for the child participating in that
unit and a rationale for those goals. The second section contained the
materials needed for the lessons, such as story illustrations, food pictures,
finger puppets or stories. The third section in each unit was a
description of the skills and knowledge the child should have developed at
the end of the unit. There was an emphasis placed on variety within the
curriculum, and many different teaching techniques were used.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Byrd-Bredbenner, C. B., Marecic, M. C., Bernstein, J.
(1993). Development of a Nutrition Education Curriculum for Head Start
Children. Journal of Nutrition Education, 25(3), 134-139.

Evaluated population: The evaluated population was
made up 16 Head Start centers across the United States, containing a total
of 65 classrooms with more than 1,000 children. The demographics were very
similar to the nationwide Head Start enrollment statistics. Six percent
of the sample were Asian, 33% were African-American, 26% were Hispanic, 11%
were Native American, and 23% were white. The national statistics at
the time showed that the Head Start population was 3% Asian, 41%
African-American, 20% Hispanic, 4% Native American and 32% white. At
the beginning of the field test close to 75% of the participants had been
enrolled in Head Start for four months or less. Ninety percent of the
participants were four or five years old.

Approach: Classrooms were randomly assigned to
either experimental groups, in which the curriculum was used, or control
groups. The control group classrooms still received some nutrition
education that was integrated into the everyday curriculum because it is
normally taught in Head Start classrooms. However, no specific
nutrition units were taught during in the control groups during the field
test. The field test lasted for six weeks. The curriculum
was introduced to the teachers in a three-hour preparatory session in which
the need for nutrition education was discussed, and the curriculum and
field-test procedures were explained. Teachers from all classrooms
attended the session. Teachers in the experimental group received the
curriculum at the session, whereas teachers in the control group did not
receive the curriculum until the end of the six-week field test.

In order to evaluate teacher’s reactions to the program,
teachers were asked to keep logs of the nutrition activities over the course
of the field test in order to determine whether or not the materials were
useful, appropriate, and reasonable in the amount of time they took.

In order to evaluate effectiveness of the program, a
variety of methods were used. The two more formal methods were a
nutrition knowledge test and a nutrition attitude test both given at pre-test
and post-test time. The attitude test measured three different areas of
attitude toward nutrition, entitled the following: “I like to eat nutritious
foods”, “I like to eat vegetables” and “I like to eat new foods”.

The less formal method used to measure change was a
behavior observation checklist completed by the teachers at both pre and
posttest. The checklist included items that reflected observations of
children’s behaviors based on 13 food and nutrition related behaviors.

Results: The log sheets that the teachers completed
showed that they felt there was not enough time to give and reinforce the
concepts within the curriculum, though they believed the lessons were
appropriate for most of the children. The teachers rated the children’s
reactions to the program very positively, and also indicated that they found
the curriculum to be helpful and clear and they rated it highly. They
estimated they taught from the curriculum for 45 to 55 minutes each
week. Control group teachers indicated they spent between 35 to 40
minutes per week on nutrition education activities.

Children in the experimental group scored significantly
higher on the “I like to eat nutritious foods” and “I like to eat new foods”
attitude scales. Although children in the experimental group scored
higher on the “I like to eat vegetables” and the knowledge test, these
differences were not significant.

Children in the experimental group refused offered food 6%
less of the time, whereas control group children refused offered food 6% more
of the time. Children in the experimental group also increased their
requests for low-sugar snacks by 12%, whereas children in the control group
showed a 6% decrease in this behavior. Observed behaviors in the other
food related categories showed similar patterns.

Limitations: The authors note that there were
several limitations to their study which may have impacted the results.
First, the teachers in both groups volunteered to participate in the study,
and it’s possible they may have been more committed to teaching nutrition
education than other teachers. It’s also possible that attending the
session and the knowledge they were participating in a field test could have
affected their motivation to effectively teach nutrition
education.

Another factor that may limit the ability to draw definite
conclusions from the field test was that the time frame may not have given an
accurate presentation of the impact of the program. The program was
designed to continue for three years and the test only ran for six weeks
because of the difficulties in funding long-term studies and it’s impossible
to know how much that significant amount of extra time would have changed the
results.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References:

Byrd-Bredbenner, C. B., Marecic, M. C., Bernstein, J.
(1993). Development of a Nutrition Education Curriculum for Head Start
Children. Journal of Nutrition Education, 25(3), 134-139.

KEYWORDS: Physical Health, Nutrition, School-based, Early Childhood
(0-5), Children, Preschool, Education, Cognitive Development, Life Skills,
White or Caucasian, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or
Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino.

Program information last updated on 9/12/07