What Can Be Done To Improve Nutrition Education Efforts in the Schools

CED-82-65: Published: May 25, 1982. Publicly Released: May 25, 1982.

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GAO reviewed the importance of nutrition education in the schools as it relates to: (1) improving eating habits, (2) reducing food waste, and (3) aiding or reducing the need for other federally supported nutrition education activities. GAO also discussed the status of nutrition education in the schools and what the Federal Government can do to help improve it.

GAO found that neither the Department of Agriculture (USDA) nor the Department of Education have gathered information on federally funded nutrition education projects for assessment and dissemination of the results to State and local education agencies. USDA claimed that it lacked Nutrition Education and Training Program funds to reproduce and disseminate information and that it has no criteria to assess the quality of nutrition education information. Both USDA and Education have systems to gather and disseminate information, so no new mechanism should be needed. USDA requires participating States to evaluate the Nutrition Education and Training Program's effectiveness and specify objectives based on participants' needs. Three of the four States GAO visited did not evaluate their program's effectiveness or specify objectives on participants' knowledge, attitudes, or behavior. This occurred because USDA did not provide adequate guidance or training to States on evaluations and objectives. As a result, States had difficulty identifying evaluation materials. Coordination efforts are weak at all levels: between USDA and Education, and within the USDA Nutrition Education and Training Program and private sector groups such as the dairy council. Many teachers are not prepared to teach nutrition upon entering the teaching profession, because few States require teachers to take nutrition courses.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should coordinate the USDA nutrition education activities for the schools with the Department of Education's nutrition education activities. This coordination should include, among other things: (1) identifying and sharing with interested State and local education agencies the extent and results of successful nutrition education activities to prevent unnecessary duplication; and (2) developing a unified strategy to reach as many students as possible needing nutrition education and the coordination should occur at the Federal level, be encouraged at the State level, and at all government levels should include the private sector, such as the dairy council.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should convene a panel of experts to help develop the above guidance and establish program goals. These experts should include nutritionists, teachers, school administrators, education evaluators, and other appropriate groups. Once USDA develops the guidance, States would have the option of using it or of developing their own.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should aid interested States by developing evaluation guidance for measuring changes in participants' knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should aid interested States by developing general program goals and comprehensive guidance on how to specify program objectives for students, teachers, and food service personnel in the areas of knowledge, attitude, and behavior.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should provide State and local education agencies and other interested parties access to the evaluation results and nutrition education information meeting the guidelines. Department of Agriculture and Department of Education dissemination systems should be adequate for this purpose.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should systematically gather and evaluate to the extent possible information on nutrition education projects that meet the established guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should share these guidelines with interested State and local education agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should convene a panel of experts to develop guidelines for evaluating the quality of available nutrition education efforts for use in the schools. The panel should include teachers, food service personnel, nutritionists, system design experts, and other appropriate persons.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the recommendation is still valid, the agency "refuses" to take action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should discuss with State education agencies involved in administering child nutrition programs and in providing nutrition education in the schools what approaches might be taken to help ensure that teachers have the basic skills needed to teach nutrition. One topic that should be included in the discussion is the possibility of establishing for all elementary schoolteachers in such subjects as home economics, health, and science: (1) nutrition education as a prerequisite for certification of new teachers; and (2) competency levels for nutrition education and providing in service training for teachers needing help in achieving these competency levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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