Rural Elementary and Middle School Personnel Perceptions of Student Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity

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Background: The percentage of children with obesity and type II diabetes in the United States has increased over the past two decades, particularly in the rural Southeast. Schools are a proposed setting for prevention initiatives. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of school personnel perceptions of child obesity and diabetes prevention. This understanding will facilitate a unique collaboration between a regional university, a hospital system, community organizations, and schools in making healthy changes in policy, curricula, and environments in elementary and middle schools. The approach will be modeled after the Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP). Methods: The study was approved by the university Institutional Review Board. Key personnel from six school systems in Northeast Tennessee were invited to participate in a written survey that included questions about nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. Results: All school systems participated, with a total of 32 administrators and teachers completing the survey. Sixty-five percent of respondents believed that the amount of student physical activity at their school was too little. All respondents felt that to be healthy, 2008 Appalachian Student Research Forum Page 51 students needed a total of 30 minutes of physical activity at school each day in every grade level. Eightyfour percent of respondents thought that the nutritional quality of foods and drinks consumed by students at school was fair, good, or very good. Most teachers did agreed that schools should not sell unhealthy snacks as fundraisers and that classroom parties should include mostly healthy foods and drinks. Eightytwo percent of personnel were either extremely or very concerned about child obesity in their school community. Over ninety percent agreed that schools should do more to promote physical activity and healthy nutrition among both children and teachers. All respondents felt that parents needed to be more involved in this effort with their children. Conclusion: School personnel from this Northeast Tennessee sample were concerned about child obesity and seemed willing to implement changes in their schools to promote physical activity and healthy nutrition. The next phase of this study will test whether a program modeled after and implemented in conjunction with Tennessee CSHP is effective in producing changes in school policies, curricula, and environments that will promote physical activity and healthier nutrition.


Johnson City, TN

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