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Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

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Public Policy

An emerging research area for the Center is exploring the policies and practices that create opportunities for or barriers to good food and nutrition education. We seek to provide evidence and analyses for advocates and policy makers that can shape policy to create an environment supportive of food and nutrition education and access to good food in schools and communities.

Ongoing Research

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There are now many food and nutrition education programs that are run by non-profit organizations, government agencies, and universities that work in schools in New York City. Yet, little was known about how many such programs exist, their reach across schools, and if they were reaching schools that need these programs most, i.e. in neighborhoods with low income and high childhood obesity rates. From 2010-12, we analyzed the scope, distribution, and attributes of 20 nutrition education programs that work in schools. We looked at three New York City boroughs—Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens—and included all 614 public elementary schools in these three boroughs. 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 expand 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 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.

  • 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.

Related Publications:


Many schools are establishing gardens as a way to beautify the grounds, teach core academics and nutrition education, improve diet outcomes for students, build interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, and increase opportunities for physical activity. For this study, we explored how to establish gardens successfully so that they become a valued learning tool, part of the school culture, and a sustained scholastic program. We worked closely with Grow to Learn NYC, a program through GrowNYC, that registers and supports school gardens, to learn more about how some of the most successful school gardens work in the city. This research will result in evidence-based policy recommendations for how to institutionalize and sustain school gardens.

Completed Research

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For people to be able to make healthy food and physical activity decisions, the better choices need to be the easy ones, i.e. available, affordable, and desirable. The mission of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded NYC Food and Fitness Partnership is to use policy and system changes that make “the healthy choice the easy choice” by creating equitable access to healthy, quality, affordable foods and opportunities for active living, starting in the neighborhoods of highest need. Our role in the partnership in Central Brooklyn from 2009-2012 was to evaluate progress toward the partnerships goals, using evaluation forms called “cross site tools." These tools tracked who was involved at the partnership and at what level, what resources were used as leverages, progress toward policies and system changes, and stories that shared the path to policy change.