Master of Philosophy
School of Health and Society
Many Australian children have unhealthy dietary behaviours. These unhealthy dietary behaviours have been linked to rising rates of childhood obesity. Food and nutrition education plays an important role in shaping children’s dietary behaviours and schools have been identified as ideal location for such education to occur.
Despite recognition of the importance of food and nutrition education evidence suggests adequate time is not being allocated to food and nutrition education in primary schools. To effectively educate, support, and encourage teachers to include food and nutrition education in their programs, it is critical to understand the influences that enable or constrain their current instructional practices. The international literature and a number of small exploratory studies in Australia point to possible influences, including poor food and nutrition related knowledge and lack of appropriate teaching resources. The research presented in this thesis aimed to investigate the influences on Australian primary school teachers’ food and nutrition instructional practices at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, organisational, community, and policy levels.
The study utilised a convergent mixed-methods design, applying both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore influences on teachers’ food and nutrition instructional practices. The quantitative phase of the research cross-sectionally surveyed primary school teachers’ (n=271) food and nutrition related attitudes and beliefs, knowledge, self-efficacy, and instructional practices. The qualitative phase of the research used in-depth semi-structured interviews (n=18) to explore teachers’ experiences and perceptions of food and nutrition education, including enablers and barriers to food and nutrition instruction.
Primary school teachers, on the whole, had positive attitudes and beliefs towards food and nutrition education. Teachers were motivated to teach food and nutrition content because of the positive influence they believed it could have on children’s health outcomes, wellbeing, and learning. Furthermore, teachers had moderately high levels of food and nutrition knowledge and high levels of self-efficacy to teach food and nutrition content. The likelihood of teaching food and nutrition content increased the more a teacher felt prepared to teach such content. Furthermore, the number of hours spent teaching food and nutrition content appeared to be positively associated with self-efficacy to teach food and nutrition content.
Despite teachers’ positive attitudes and beliefs, moderately high food and nutrition knowledge, and self-efficacy, the number of hours spent teaching food and nutrition was limited. Eighty-five percent (84.8%) of the teachers surveyed reported they currently taught, had taught in the past or planned to teach food and nutrition content in the future, however over half of these teachers (51.8%) taught five hours or less of food and nutrition content per year. Barriers to teaching food and nutrition content included: a crowded curriculum, pressure to prioritise ‘core subjects’, and limited access to appropriate resources. Enablers of food and nutrition instruction included: support from school leadership and parents, reinforcement of food and nutrition messages through school policies and planning, and embedding food and nutrition education into daily routines.
The findings of this thesis highlight the importance of a multilevel approach to supporting food and nutrition education in primary schools. While teachers must be supported at an individual level to develop food and nutrition related knowledge and self-efficacy, it is essential to reduce the barriers that constrain teachers’ food and nutrition instructional practices at the school, community, and policy levels. By acknowledging and addressing the range of influences that shape teachers FNIP, a multilevel approach to supporting food and nutrition instruction has the potential to embed food and nutrition education in primary schools and in so doing, support children to develop healthy dietary behaviours for life.
Gorman, Emma, An Exploratory Study of Food and Nutrition Instruction in Australian Primary Schools, Master of Philosophy thesis, School of Health and Society, University of Wollongong, 2021. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/1331
FoR codes (2008)
111104 Public Nutrition Intervention, 111712 Health Promotion, 130105 Primary Education (excl. Maori), 130210 Physical Education and Development Curriculum and Pedagogy
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.