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The relationship between nutrition knowledge and school cafeteria purchases of seventh grade students in a rural Indiana school district

Deanna Pucciarelli,, McNeany, Terry, Friesen, Carol
The Journal of child nutrition & management 2013 v.37 no.2
adolescents, boys, cafeterias, child nutrition, childhood obesity, education, food choices, food consumption, foods, gender, girls, healthy diet, nutrition knowledge, nutritionists, students, surveys, Indiana
Purpose/Objectives School cafeterias have the potential to positively contribute to the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. The purpose of this project was to assess adolescents’ nutrition knowledge and dietary choices, and to measure the relationship between students’ nutrition knowledge and the type of food items purchased in their school cafeteria using Indiana’s legal definition of ‘better choice’ food. Methods A 25-question nutrition knowledge survey was pilot-tested (r=0.79) and used to measure general nutrition knowledge among 287 seventh grade students in a rural Indiana junior high school. A computerized list of all foods purchased in the school cafeteria by each student over one week was obtained from the Meal Tracker program. A dietary choice score was calculated for each student based on the percentage of foods they purchased that met Indiana’s legal definition of a ‘better choice’ food. Results Dietary choice scores ranged from 19 to 100%, with no difference detected by gender (t = 0.99, p = 0.32). Results indicated a low nutrition knowledge level (12.1±4.0) among these teens. Girls scored higher on the nutrition knowledge survey than boys (12.8±3.3 vs. 11.6±4.3; t=2.6; p=0.01). There was no relationship between the nutrition knowledge score and dietary choice score (r=.06, NS) among this seventh grade population. Applications to Child Nutrition Professionals Students in this sample scored high on healthy dietary choices without scoring high on the nutrition knowledge test. This result may indicate a need to shift toward behavior control by limiting food options, rather than focusing efforts on education alone, when trying to improve teenagers’ healthy food consumption patterns. Alternately, the apparent high intake of healthy dietary choices could have been a result of the definition of Indiana’s ‘better choice’ foods. Further research to clarify the relationship between nutrition knowledge and dietary choice among adolescents is needed.