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Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion San Jose Nutrition Education Project -- California

The San Jose Nutrition Education Project (SJNEP), initiated in the San Jose Unified School District in 1976, provides education on nutrition, with emphasis on healthful dietary plans and lifestyle habits, to children from all socioeconomic backgrounds in grades K through 4.

SJNEP attempts to develop an understanding of nutrition, foster positive food habits, and improve the overall nutritional status. In 1982, SJNEP was disseminated nationally through the National Diffusion Network of the U.S. Department of Education. More than 68 school districts from 10 states adopted the project. Independent evaluations conducted at initial project sites from 1977 to 1981 and at sites that adopted the project from 1983 to 1985 indicated significant gains among participating students in both knowledge of nutrition and eating habits.

The SJNEP uses a team approach in which a registered dietician, teachers, food service staff, and parents promote nutritional awareness through a classroom curriculum of lessons and games, cafeteria displays, awards for appropriate mealtime behavior, and taste-tests. Student worksheets are available in Spanish and English. The project emphasizes innovative teaching techniques to enhance students' knowledge of nutrition and their food consumption habits. Techniques include strategies for integrating instruction about nutrition into classrooms with regular classroom subjects and into the school food service program. Parents volunteer during classroom activities and receive monthly newsletters that provide nutritional facts, games, and recipes.

SJNEP's impact on children's nutritional knowledge was evaluated by administering nutritional tests before and after the project to participating children and to equivalent comparison groups. A separate set of 16 to 22 multiple choice questions was given at each grade level. For example, one test question asked kindergarteners to point to one of four pictures that best illustrated how to clean one's hands. Another question asked 4th graders how they could make the school lunch area a nicer place to eat. Although both project participants and comparison groups gained in knowledge about nutrition, participating students at each grade level gained significantly over students in nonparticipating classes (by 11.1 to 19.3 percentage points in original sites and by 6.7 to 13.6 percentage points in adopting sites) (Table 1). The project's effect on children's behavior was determined by comparing school lunch-plate waste (consumption) rates for participants and demographically equivalent comparison groups. Participants at original and adopting sites consumed a significantly greater percentage of the food from each of six food categories than did children in comparison groups (Table 2).

Further information on how to implement the project can be obtained by writing San Jose Nutrition Education Project, Food Services Division, San Jose Unified School District, 250 Stockton Avenue, San Jose, California 95126. Reported by: C Johnson, Health Education-Risk Reduction Program, California Dept of Health Svcs. Behavioral Epidemiology and Evaluation Br, Div of Health Education, Center for Health Promotion and Education, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The San Jose Nutrition Education Project provides an excellent model for other nutritional programs. Evaluation at original implementation sites and at sites that later adopted the project indicate that health promotion programs of excellence can produce similar results in different locations.

The primary goal of the National Diffusion Network of the Department of Education is to help local school districts, intermediate service agencies, state departments of education, and postsecondary institutions in their continuing efforts to improve educational opportunities and achievements. To promote the transfer of successful programs from the development sites, this nationwide system helps those involved in education acquire materials and incorporate improved practices into their own programs.

In recognition of its achievements, the San Jose Nutrition Education Project was one of 56 health programs receiving the 1986 Secretary's Award for Excellence in Community Health Promotion from the Department of Health and Human Services.

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