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In schools that could benefit most, building relationships is key to increasing capacity for nutrition education programming

Philadelphia | June 8, 2023

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior demonstrates the power of community-school relationships to improve student food security

The US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) provides nutrition programming to individuals with low income, including students and their families, through a network of community partners who implement the programs. Findings of a new study(opens in new tab/window) in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior(opens in new tab/window), published by Elsevier, suggest SNAP-Ed implementers could develop a school’s readiness for programming by concentrating efforts on cultivating relationships, program-specific capacity, and motivation at schools.

Lead author Erin McCrossan, PhD, Office of Research and Evaluation, the School District of Philadelphia, says, "SNAP-Ed implementers make decisions about the types of programming to bring to a school based on their evaluation of a school’s readiness to change. However, obstacles such as school staff shortages, lack of capacity, and organizational climate often prevent program implementation."

To gain a nuanced understanding of how SNAP-Ed community partners decide what programming a school is ready to implement and what organizational factors were needed before the initial implementation of programming, researchers collected data from the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), a city in which the poverty rate is higher than all major US cities and barriers to food access and food insecurity exist. They conducted interviews and observations at 19 SDP schools. Examples of the types of activity observed at schools included level of student participation in recess/physical education, number of students eating school meals, signage related to nutrition and physical activity, and staff interactions with students. Philadelphia is served by seven SNAP-Ed agencies.

A kid holding a tray with his meal in school

Caption: School-community partnerships can offer food assistance and nutrition education programming needed to improve student performance (Credit: New Africa/stock.adobe.com).

Study results indicated that SNAP-Ed implementers primarily focused on existing capacity—such as school climate, school staff motivation, and administrative support—when making programming decisions. Second, data revealed SNAP-Ed implementers could develop school staff motivation and capacity to implement programming through relationships with school staff, resources, and support, responding to needs, engaging parents and families, and prioritizing health at the school.

This study demonstrates that building relationships between SNAP-Ed implementers and school staff was key to increasing school staff motivation and capacity to implement programming. Instead of viewing readiness as a characteristic that a school has or does not have, SNAP-Ed implementers could approach readiness as something they have an active role in cultivating.

Dr. McCrossan explains, “When SNAP-Ed implementers make decisions about programming based primarily on a school’s existing capacity, they often avoid the schools most in need. Schools struggling with limited capacity are most often the highest-poverty schools. They are the very schools that would benefit most from changes that promote health because there is a strong link between students’ physical health and their social-emotional health, attendance, and academic progress.”

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Notes for editors

The article is "‘A Growing Relationship’: Cultivating Organizational Readiness to Influence Implementation of Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) Change Programming in SNAP-Ed Funded School-Community Partnerships," by Erin McCrossan, PhD; Elisabeth G. Fornaro, PhD; Soula Servello, MS; Peter Hawes, MPP; Ebru Erdem, PhD; and Katrina Struloeff, MA (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2023.03.003(opens in new tab/window)). It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, volume 55, issue 6 (June 2023), published by Elsevier.

The article is openly available for 90 days at https://www.jneb.org/article/S1499-4046(23)00057-X/fulltext(opens in new tab/window).

Full text of the article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or [email protected](opens in new tab/window) to obtain a copy. To schedule an interview with the author(s), please contact Erin McCrossan, PhD, at ecassar(opens in new tab/window)@philasd.org(opens in new tab/window).

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Dr. McCrossan and other information for journalists are available at https://www.jneb.org/content/media(opens in new tab/window). Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media with permission from Eileen Leahy.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB)

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society's efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications. www.jneb.org(opens in new tab/window)

About Elsevier

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Eileen Leahy

Elsevier

+1 732 238 3628

E-mail Eileen Leahy