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Tisch Food Center Study Finds that Only 39% of Public Elementary Schools Have Nutrition Education Programs

Center calls for goal to double programs by 2020.

Study Finds that Only 39% of Public Elementary Schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens Have Nutrition Education Programs 

 A report released by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University, highlights the need for expansion of nutrition education programs

Center calls for goal to double programs by 2020

 NEW YORK, NY (September 4, 2014) – The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University, has released its first report, Expanding Nutrition Education Programs in New York City Elementary Schools: Understanding Practice to Inform Policy, that found the majority (61%) of elementary schools in New York City do not have nutrition education programs designed and provided by outside experts. The study analyzed 20 nutrition education programs that are offered by nonprofits, universities and other groups in elementary schools in three New York City boroughs – Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens – to evaluate their scope and distribution.

At a time of growing national resolve to reduce rates of childhood obesity and increase the quality of school food, the report argues that providing healthy food in schools cannot alone produce healthier eating habits. Combining nutrition education with improved access to healthy foods is crucial, and can have a powerful impact on changing children’s eating behaviors.

 “Quality nutrition education goes beyond teaching facts about nutrients or merely telling people what to and what not to eat,” according to Pamela Koch, EdD, RD, Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy.  “NYC schools are fortunate to have huge range of programs to draw on: cooking classes, social marketing campaigns, field trips to farmers markets and botanical gardens. Some help schools provide garden-based lessons, while others provide full curricula and teacher professional development connected to academic subjects like math and science. This range of experiences with food can empower people to make food choices that not only foster personal health, but also promote ecological sustainability. We need policies in place to ensure that more students have access to this type of learning.”

 The objective of the study, which assessed more than 600 elementary schools, was to describe the characteristics of the various types of nutrition education programs offered and to determine whether these programs are reaching the schools that need them most. Key findings from the study include:     

  • The nutrition education programs (NEPs) described in the report vary widely and utilize multiple activities and strategies for learning, such as teaching nutrition lessons in science, health and other academic subjects;
  • Schools using NEPs are expanding their capacity to provide food and nutrition education, with some schools having multiple NEPs for different grades;
  • Nutrition education programs are conducted through strong public-private partnerships that include the NYC Department of Education and an array of nonprofits, universities and funders;
  • Despite these successes, more schools clearly need to have access to NEPs. Only 39% of schools in the three boroughs that were studied (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens) had an NEP in their school. Sixty-one percent of these schools did not have an NEP;
  • While NEPs are reaching some of the highest-need schools—defined as schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free/reduced price lunch, or schools in neighborhoods with high chronic disease rates—these schools offer proportionately fewer programs than their lower-need peers; and
  • Although almost half of the programs receive some funding from New York City government, few receive funding at the state or federal level. Most NEPs receive at least some funding from foundations and corporations.

 “While nutrition education programs exist in many schools, the findings have shown that there is much room for expansion and that this type of study should be conducted in other major metropolitan areas to broaden our understanding of NEPs in schools across the country,” said Koch. “Ultimately, we would like to see strong policies at the local, state, and federal levels that support the implementation and reach of high-quality food and nutrition education in schools.”

 In addition to researching the availability of nutrition education programs, the report provides the first-ever guide of programs available to elementary schools in New York City. Schools can use the guide to find NEPs and choose the one that best fits their needs. Additionally, the authors make key recommendations about how to build on what is working and how to improve accessibility to these programs, including:

  • For Schools: Schools can evaluate if they are providing enough nutrition education to help students make healthy choices, and if not, consider adding more NEPs to their schools;
  • For NEP providers: NEP providers can ensure that more students, especially those in high-need areas, are reached by using tools to measure the need and assessing how they can best support specific schools. NEPs can also more aggressively promote the variety of benefits they provide to a school such as supporting academic success, improving eating behaviors, and building community; and
  • For Funders and Policy Makers: Funders and policy makers can increase support for NEPs in targeted areas while working towards a goal of 80% of NYC schools with NEPs by 2020. This can be done through increased geographically and need targeted funding by government and others, and policy mandating nutrition education in schools.

 For a link to the full report, please visit the following link. Additionally for a link to the executive summary, please visit the following link

 About the Report and the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

The report is based on a doctoral dissertation by Kathleen Joyce Porter, PhD, RD entitled “Bringing Nutrition Education Programs from Outside Sources into the Classroom: The Experience of New York City Public Elementary Schools.” The study was completed by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. The Center was established by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund in February 2013 as part of the Foundation’s Healthy Food & Community Change initiative. It cultivates research about connections between a just, sustainable food system and healthy eating and translates it into recommendations and resources for educators, policy makers, and community advocates, with a focus on schools as critical levers for learning and social change. For more information about The Center, visit: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/tisch/.

Media contact: Claire Uno, Assistant Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University, at cu2155@tc.columbia.edu or 212-678-3693.



Published Thursday, Sep. 4, 2014