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Volume 33, Issue 2, Fall 2009 - Bounds Stinson; Lofton

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Perceptions of School Nutrition Directors and Managers Regarding Their Role in School Wellness

Wendy Bounds Stinson, PhD, RD; Kristi Lofton, PhD, RD

ABSTRACT

Purpose/Objectives
The objectives of this study were to investigate the perceptions of school nutrition (SN) directors and managers regarding their role in school wellness, the responsibility of SN professionals for serving as positive role models, and factors contributing to greater involvement in school wellness.

Methods
A survey assessing the role of SN professionals in school wellness was developed from qualitative data from an expert panel discussion. Surveys were mailed to SN directors representing a random sample of 700 school districts, who distributed surveys to an SN manager in their districts, resulting in 1,400 surveys. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results
A total of 462 surveys (33%) were returned. SN directors and managers believed SN professionals have an important role to play in school wellness and have a responsibility to model healthy behaviors. Roles related to food safety, availability of food choices, encouraging healthy diets in children, and modeling personal wellness were rated most important. In general, roles rated as most important were also roles in which participants reported the greatest level of involvement, although participants reported little involvement in many wellness roles. Factors perceived as promoting a greater contribution to school wellness included those related to financial support, time, and support from other involved parties.

Applications to Child Nutrition Professionals
Although SN directors and managers considered all roles related to school wellness important, they reported minimal involvement in many roles assessed, suggesting the potential for a much greater role in school wellness. Education materials should address the importance of the variety of potential roles that SN directors and managers may play in school wellness, with training provided to support these additional roles. Factors promoting a greater contribution to school wellness identified in this study will be helpful in expanding the roles of SN directors and managers in wellness initiatives.

INTRODUCTION

As part of a larger effort to improve student health and reduce childhood obesity, the Federal Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act of 2004, Section 204, required any school district participating in school meal programs to establish a local wellness policy (LWP) by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year (Pub. L. No. 108-265, § 204). A number of health organizations, including Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) and the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA), have provided guidance to schools on the development of LWPs (Action for Healthy Kids, n.d.; National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, 2005). Model wellness policies from both organizations address many nutrition-related initiatives, including school meal participation, meal times and scheduling, and the foods and beverages offered and served in schools. Additionally, both model policies include a staff wellness component to support staff efforts to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Thus, these model policies promote the important role of school nutrition (SN) in student health and the importance of addressing the personal health of school staff.

There is a key role to be played by SN professionals in school wellness, provided that they are committed to modifying the school environment to positively impact student health and believe that they personally play an important role in school wellness initiatives. Levine et al. (2002) suggested that the likelihood of SN interventions being widely implemented depends in part on how much importance is placed on nutrition education and school foodservice by SN professionals, teachers, and administrators. No published studies addressing SN directors’ and managers’ perceptions of the importance of their roles in school wellness initiatives were identified.

Although there are many potential roles for SN directors and managers in school wellness initiatives, research regarding their involvement has been focused on general descriptions of roles in the development, implementation, and evaluation of LWPs. Studies showed a significant role for SN professionals, particularly SN directors, in the development of LWPs (McDonnell & Probart, 2008; McDonnell, Probart, & Weirich, 2006; Probart, McDonnell, Weirich, Schilling, & Fekete, 2008; Serrano et al., 2007), although many others have not been involved (McDonnell & Probart, 2008; Serrano et al., 2007). In addition, analysis of LWPs indicated that SN directors have been assigned responsibility for implementation (Probart et al., 2008; School Nutrition Association [SNA], 2006a) and evaluation (SNA, 2006a) of LWPs. Although these studies addressed general roles related to the development, implementation, and evaluation of LWPs, no research was identified describing the specific roles played by SN directors and managers with respect to their contribution to school wellness initiatives.

A position statement jointly authored by the American Dietetic Association, the Society for Nutrition Education, and the American School Food Service Association also recognized the critical role of SN programs and services in student health and academic performance (Briggs, Safaii, & Beall, 2003). In addition, this position statement notes the importance of the whole school environment modeling healthy choices, including school staff serving as role models for healthy lifestyle practices. Story, Hayes, and Kalina (1996) also emphasized the importance of role modeling as a way of increasing exposure to healthy behaviors within the school environment. A review paper by Wechsler, Devereaux, Davis, and Collins (2000) summarized a body of literature addressing the use of the school environment to shape students’ dietary and physical activity behaviors. These authors suggested that role modeling is one of the most important ways that the psychosocial environment within a school influences the development of behavioral norms in students. In this context, SN professionals have the potential to become powerful role models for student health. No studies were identified regarding SN directors’ and managers’ perceptions of the responsibility of SN professionals to serve as positive role models for students within the school environment.

The purpose of this study was to address limitations in the professional literature by conducting a national study to identify SN directors’ and managers’ perceptions of their roles in and responsibilities for supporting and contributing to the school wellness environment. In addition, their perceptions regarding the responsibility of SN professionals to serve as positive role models for students was explored. Finally, factors conducive to a greater involvement in school wellness initiatives and making positive personal lifestyle changes were addressed.

METHODOLOGY

Sample
The sample consisted of SN directors and managers in public school districts. A listing of states within each of the seven USDA regions was provided to Market Data Retrieval, a national school marketing company. The resulting random sample of 700 school districts was stratified by USDA region, with 100 school districts from each USDA region. The resulting list identified the mailing address for the district SN directors. Survey packets were mailed to this national random sample of 700 SN directors who were asked to complete a survey, as well as distribute a survey to an SN manager in his or her district. Including the sample of 700 SN directors and 700 SN managers, a total of 1,400 surveys were distributed.

Research Design and Instrument
An expert panel session was conducted over one and a half days to discuss issues related to the role of SN professionals in school wellness. There were six participants, including one state agency representative (a wellness coordinator) and five SN directors. A second state agency representative (a wellness grant director) was unable to attend the expert panel session, but participated in a conference call with researchers prior to the meeting to discuss the research objectives.

Expert panel participants were asked semi-structured, open-ended questions designed to explore issues related to the role of SN professionals in supporting and contributing to school wellness. The session was facilitated by a researcher with an assistant moderator capturing participants’ comments on a flip chart. After all questions were discussed, the researcher summarized responses, and participants were invited to verify that the summary comments were an accurate depiction of the discussion.

A survey instrument was developed from the qualitative data obtained from the expert panel session. In the survey, participants were asked to indicate the perceived level of importance of a set of 29 roles related to school wellness from their own professional perspectives. They then indicated their degree of personal involvement in each of these 29 roles. Participants also were asked to rate their level of agreement with 10 statements regarding SN professionals as role models in school wellness. Finally, participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with 28 statements identifying factors that may promote a greater contribution to the school wellness environment. Participants also provided information about themselves and their schools or school districts.

The six SN professionals who had participated in the expert panel discussion were asked to review the pilot survey instrument. Other individuals identified by state agency representatives as knowledgeable about school wellness, who had not been asked to participate in the expert panel session, also were asked to review the pilot survey instrument. In addition, representatives from the committee of state agency directors representing the seven USDA regions were asked to review the survey. In total, fourteen individuals and seven state agency committee members were asked to review the pilot survey instrument.

Reviewers were asked to complete an evaluation form to assess the clarity and completeness of the survey cover letter and survey content. Fourteen review panelists returned the evaluations representing four USDA regions and the state agency committee. Only minor wording changes were made to the survey instrument, based on the recommendations provided by pilot study reviewers. The University of Southern Mississippi Institutional Review Board approved the study protocol and survey.

Data Collection
Each SN director in the sample was mailed a pre-notice letter one week before the surveys were mailed. One week later, each SN director was mailed an envelope containing a cover letter and two survey packets, one for the SN director and one for an SN manager. The SN director’s cover letter provided instructions on how to complete the survey based on his/her role, and to distribute the second survey packet to an SN manager in his/her district. Included in the survey packets were an instructional cover letter, the survey instrument, and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope for returning the completed survey. No identifying codes were placed on the survey instruments, thus preserving the anonymity of all respondents. Participants were asked to return the completed surveys within a three week time period.

Data Analysis
Survey data were analyzed using the statistical package SPSS Version 13.0 for Windows. Descriptive statistics included means, standard deviations, and frequencies of total responses. Exploratory principal components factor analysis was performed on items in the various sections of the survey instrument, to determine if each set of items could be reduced to a smaller number of factors. None of these analyses yielded a cognitively interpretable factor solution; thus, all data were analyzed using only descriptive statistics.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Sample Characteristics
A total of 1,400 surveys were distributed to 700 SN directors and 700 SN managers. A total of 462 surveys were returned and used in statistical analysis, for a response rate of 33%. Program and personal characteristics of respondents are provided in Table 1. Both SN directors and managers were represented, with the majority of participants (66.2%) being SN directors. The vast majority of participants (90.5%) were Caucasian or White, with little representation from other races/ethnicities. Participants represented all USDA regions. The largest percentages of participants reported working in SN programs for more than 20 years (27.4%) and being in their current positions one to five years (33.8%). The largest percentage of SN directors reported working in school districts with an enrollment of 2,799 or less (56.8%), while the largest percentage of SN managers reported working in schools with an enrollment of 301-600 (37.6%). In terms of certification status, the largest percentage of participants reported that they were not certified (37.7%), closely followed by those reporting School Nutrition Association (SNA) certification (36.8%).

Participants indicated that a variety of wellness activities had been implemented for SN staff, with nutrition promotions and programs (34.2%), nutrition education programs or classes (31.2%), and health screenings (27.8%) most often reported (Table 1). However, many participants (30.3%) also reported that no wellness activities were available for SN staff. Although LWPs must address student health, there are no requirements that the health of school faculty and staff also be addressed, and school districts vary with respect to whether staff wellness has been incorporated into their policies (SNA, 2006b). National studies have produced conflicting results with respect to the inclusion of staff wellness in LWPs. Moag-Stahlberg, Howley, and Luscri (2008) reported that only 36% of LWPs analyzed included a staff wellness component, while Longley and Sneed (2009) reported that 71% of LWPs included staff wellness. Another study conducted by the SNA and the School Nutrition Foundation indicated that while 78% of school nutrition directors surveyed reported that their LWPs included staff wellness in policy standards, only 33% reported that staff wellness programs had been implemented (SNA, 2007). Thus, although LWPs may address staff wellness, programs for staff may or may not have been implemented.

 Table 1. Program and Personal Characteristics of Participants

 Item

Frequency

 % 

 Job Title (n = 423)

 

 

      SN Director

280

66.2

      SN Manager

143

33.8

 Years Worked in SN Programs (n = 446)

 

 

     < 1 year

011

02.5

     1-5 years

077

17.3

     6-10 years

074

16.6

     11-15 years

082

18.4

     16-20 years

080

17.9

     > 20 years

122

27.4

 Years in Current Position (n = 447)

 

 

      < 1 year

036

08.1

      1-5 years

151

33.8

      6-10 years

078

17.4

      11-15 years

090

20.1

      16-20 years

036

08.1

      > 20 years

056

12.5

 USDA Region (n = 455)

 

 

      Southeast

086

18.9

     Mountain Plains

077

16.9

     Southwest

073

16.0

     Mid-Atlantic

064

14.1

     Northeast

058

12.7

     Midwest

057

12.5

     Western

040

08.8

 Race/Ethnicity (n = 451)

 

 

     Caucasian or White

408

90.5

     African American or Black

020

04.4

     Hispanic or Latino

011

02.4

     Asian or Pacific Islander

008

01.8

     American Indian

003

00.7

     Other

001

00.2

 School District Enrollmenta (n = 315)

 

 

     2,799 or less

179

56.8

     2,800-9,999

100

31.7 

     10,000-19,999

018

05.7

     20,000-44,999

015

04.8

     45,000-64,999

001

00.3

     65,000 or greater

002

00.6

 School Enrollmentb (n = 249)

 

 

     300 or less

038

17.8

     301-600

080

37.6

     601-900

054

25.4

     901 or greater

041

19.2

 Certification Status (n = 555)

 

 

     Not certified

169

37.7

     SNA certified

165

36.8

     Other

068

15.2

     State Department of Education certified

064

14.3

     School Nutrition Specialist credentialed

042

09.4

     Registered Dietitian

028

06.3

     Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

019

04.2

Wellness Activities for SN Staff (n = 1,122)

 

 

     Nutrition promotions and programs

150

34.2

     Nutrition education programs or classes

137

31.2

     No wellness activities for SN staff

133

30.3

     Health screenings available

122

27.8

     Walking/fitness promotions and programs

096

21.9

     Fitness facilities available at worksite

093

21.2

     Cooking programs or classes

081

18.5

     Weight management promotions and programs

077

17.5

     Free/discounted gym or fitness center memberships

075

17.1

     Professional training related to school wellness

072

16.4

     Opportunities to participate in physical activity during work day

040

09.1

     Federal/state/local funding for staff wellness

019

04.3

     Other

019

04.3

     Financial incentives for participating in wellness activities

008

01.8

 Note. SN = School Nutrition
 a This item was only answered by SN directors.
 b This item was only answered by SN managers.

 

 


Roles Related to School Wellness
Participants were provided with 29 statements regarding potential roles that SN professionals may play in the school wellness environment and were asked to rate the level of importance of each statement to their own role in the school wellness environment, using a scale of 4 (very important) to 1 (not important). Table 2 presents the means and standard deviations for each of the 29 statements in descending order of importance.

Participants considered almost all roles to be important, with 26 of 29 statements having a mean importance rating of 3.00 or higher. Overall, SN directors and managers rated roles related to food safety, availability of food choices, and encouraging healthy diets for children as most important. This is illustrated by the fact that the highest rated roles were “addressing food safety issues” (3.77 ± 0.49), “making healthier menu choices available” (3.74 ± 0.52), “encouraging students to make healthy food choices” (3.68 ± 0.53), “encouraging students to try new foods” (3.64 ± 0.56), and “limiting unhealthy food choices at school” (3.61 ± 0.60). Roles related to modeling personal wellness also were considered important, with “improving personal eating habits” (3.56 ± 0.61), “improving personal physical activity habits” (3.54 ± 0.67), and “modeling consumption of healthy food choices” (3.51 ± 0.64) having mean importance ratings greater than 3.50. Roles rated as least important included “assessing the impact of wellness activities” (2.98 ± 0.80), “evaluating the implementation of wellness activities” (2.95 ± 0.82), and “writing grants to provide funding to support wellness activities” (2.82 ± 1.01), although each of these roles was still considered important.

Participants then were asked to indicate their level of personal involvement in each of the roles, using a scale of 4 (very involved) to 1 (not involved). Table 2 again presents the means and standard deviations for each of the 29 statements. In general, the roles rated as most important also were the roles in which participants reported the greatest level of involvement, with the greatest level of personal involvement in “addressing food safety issues” (3.52 ± 0.79), “making healthier menu choices available” (3.43 ± 0.85), “encouraging students to try new foods” (3.27 ± 0.83), “limiting unhealthy food choices at school” (3.22 ± 0.89), and “encouraging students to make healthy food choices” (3.19 ± 0.81). Participants reported being involved in modeling dietary behaviors, with “improving personal eating habits” (3.16 ± 0.83) and “modeling consumption of healthy food choices” (3.02 ± 0.89) also being rated above 3.00. Overall, participants reported little involvement in many roles, as evidenced by the fact that only nine of the 29 statements had a mean involvement rating greater than 3.00.

In terms of more general roles related to wellness initiatives, participants in the current study perceived roles related to development of LWPs and other wellness initiatives to be important, with “serving on the district/school wellness committee” (3.36 ± 0.78) and “assisting in planning the school wellness policy” (3.33 ± 0.81) being rated above 3.00. Likewise, implementation of wellness initiatives was considered important, with “implementing wellness activities” (3.13 ± 0.83) also rated above 3.00. The evaluation of wellness initiatives was perceived to be slightly less important, with “assessing the impact of wellness activities” (2.98 ± 0.80) and “evaluating the implementation of wellness activities” (2.95 ± 0.82) receiving lower ratings. Level of involvement in these roles paralleled the perceived importance ratings, with “serving on the district/school wellness committee,” “assisting in planning the school wellness policy,” “implementing wellness activities,” “assessing the impact of wellness activities,” and “evaluating the implementation of wellness activities” receiving involvement ratings of 2.74 ± 1.18, 2.66 ± 1.21, 2.20 ± 1.08, 1.92 ± 0.98, and 1.86 ± 0.98, respectively. However, these ratings indicated limited involvement in the roles other than those related to the development of wellness policies. These results are consistent with previous research reporting a significant role for SN professionals, particularly SN directors, in LWP development (McDonnell & Probart, 2008; McDonnell et al., 2006; Probart et al., 2008; Serrano et al., 2007). However, although many LWPs have assigned responsibility for implementation (Probart et al., 2008; SNA, 2006a) and evaluation (SNA, 2006a) to SN directors, actual involvement in these roles is limited in the current sample.

 Table 2. School Nutrition (SN) Professionals’ Perceived Importance of and Involvement in Roles Related to School Wellness

 Rolea

Importance

Involvement

N

Mean ± SDb

N

Mean ± SDc

 Addressing food safety issues

437

3.77 ± 0.49

444

3.52 ± 0.79

 Making healthier menu choices available

439

3.74 ± 0.52

443

3.43 ± 0.85

 Encouraging students to make healthy food choices

429

3.68 ± 0.53

439

3.19 ± 0.81

 Encouraging students to try new foods

438

3.64 ± 0.56

443

3.27 ± 0.83

 Limiting unhealthy food choices at school

437

3.61 ± 0.60

439

3.22 ± 0.89

 Making healthier à la carte choices available

426

3.57 ± 0.68

441

3.13 ± 1.08

 Assessing and modifying recipes

441

3.57 ± 0.58

440

3.10 ± 0.99

 Improving personal eating habits

434

3.56 ± 0.61

442

3.16 ± 0.83

 Improving personal physical activity habits

426

3.54 ± 0.67

442

2.90 ± 1.04

 Modeling consumption of healthy food choices

433

3.51 ± 0.64

438

3.02 ± 0.89

 Promoting a positive school wellness environment

431

3.50 ± 0.63

439

2.59 ± 1.00

 Encouraging students to be physically active

416

3.49 ± 0.72

445

2.07 ± 1.04

 Making healthier choices available in vending machines

432

3.48 ± 0.79

442

2.13 ± 1.24

 Modeling a physically active lifestyle

431

3.45 ± 0.68

443

2.72 ± 0.99

 Modeling a healthy weight status

434

3.44 ± 0.68

442

2.80 ± 0.98

 Providing nutrition education to students

432

3.44 ± 0.70

446

2.16 ± 0.96

 Providing training to SN staff related to wellness

439

3.38 ± 0.73

439

2.66 ± 1.08

 Serving on the district/school wellness committee

444

3.36 ± 0.78

445

2.74 ± 1.18

 Assisting in planning the school wellness policy

439

3.33 ± 0.81

445

2.66 ± 1.21

 Participating in wellness training

434

3.29 ± 0.72

438

2.43 ± 1.04

 Marketing school wellness

433

3.27 ± 0.75

442

2.42 ± 1.01

 Providing nutrition education resources to teachers

424

3.24 ± 0.82

444

1.83 ± 0.94

 Making healthier choices available in school stores

414

3.23 ± 0.96

431

1.60 ± 1.02

 Implementing wellness activities

439

3.13 ± 0.83

438

2.20 ± 1.08

 Providing training to teachers and administrators related to wellness

431

3.05 ± 0.84

445

1.66 ± 0.91

 Seeking resources for implementing school wellness initiatives

432

3.00 ± 0.88

439

1.79 ± 0.95

 Assessing the impact of wellness activities

440

2.98 ± 0.80

438

1.92 ± 0.98

 Evaluating the implementation of wellness activities

433

2.95 ± 0.82

442

1.86 ± 0.98

 Writing grants to provide funding to support wellness activities

432

2.82 ± 1.01

445

1.37 ± 0.77

 aRoles are listed in descending order of perceived importance.
 bThe response scale was a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 4 (very important) to 1 (not important).
 cThe response scale was a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 4 (very involved) to  1 (not involved).



School Nutrition Professionals as Role Models in School Wellness
Participants were provided with ten statements regarding the role of SN professionals in school wellness and were asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement using a scale of 4 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree). Table 3 presents the means and standard deviations for each of the ten statements in descending order of agreement. Participants agreed that “SN professionals play an important role in school wellness” (3.46 ± 0.57) and that “SN professionals have a responsibility to model healthy behaviors to school children” (3.37 ± 0.58). Participants also agreed that “wellness activities designed for SN professionals should be included in school wellness initiatives” (3.06 ± 0.66) and that “local wellness policies and initiatives encourage SN professionals to make positive changes in personal health behaviors” (2.84 ± 0.73). Participants believed that “modeling healthy behaviors and weight status are equally important” (2.93 ± 0.67), and that “modeling healthy behaviors is more important than weight status” (2.91 ± 0.72). Although health behaviors and weight are both judged to be important, behavior appears to be perceived as more important than weight. In terms of the weight status of SN professionals, participants believed that underweight (2.77 ± 0.71) and overweight (2.64 ± 0.75), but not obese (2.34 ± 0.82), SN professionals can model healthy behaviors to school children. Weight appears to be more relevant in terms of modeling if an SN professional is overweight enough to be classified as obese.

Previous literature has emphasized the importance of the whole school environment, including school staff, modeling healthy behaviors to children (Briggs et al., 2003; Story et al., 1996; Wechsler et al., 2000). SN directors and managers in the current study perceived SN professionals as playing an important role in school wellness and having a responsibility to model healthy behaviors for children. They also believed that wellness programs for staff would aid in making health behavior changes and thus, serving as more positive role models. In this context, it is important that school wellness initiatives not only address the health of students, but staff also. This is consistent with the AFHK and NANA model wellness policies, both of which include a staff wellness component (Action for Healthy Kids, n.d.; National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, 2005). A study by Webber, Johnson, Rose, and Rice (2007) suggested that elementary school personnel were very receptive to the idea of a school-based weight loss program. Participants in the current study identified both behavior and weight as important factors in modeling good health; therefore, staff wellness programs should address both of these issues.

 Table 3. Opinions Regarding the Role of School Nutrition (SN) Professionals in School Wellness

 Statement

N

Mean ± SDa

 SN professionals play an important role in school wellness

451

3.46 ± 0.57

 SN professionals have a responsibility to model healthy behaviors to school children

437

3.37 ± 0.58

 Wellness activities designed for SN professionals should be included in school wellness initiatives

431

3.06 ± 0.66

 Modeling healthy behaviors and weight status are equally important

431

2.93 ± 0.67

 Modeling healthy behaviors is more important than weight status

435

2.91 ± 0.72

 Local wellness policies and initiatives encourage SN professionals to make positive changes in personal health behaviors

439

2.84 ± 0.73

 Underweight SN professionals can model healthy behaviors to school children

427

2.77 ± 0.71

 Overweight SN professionals can model healthy behaviors to school children

430

2.64 ± 0.75

 Obese SN professionals can model healthy behaviors to school children

429

2.34 ± 0.82

 Neither modeling healthy behaviors nor weight status are important

443

1.67 ± 0.69

 aThe response scale was a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 4 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree).


Factors Promoting Contribution to School Wellness
Participants were provided with 28 statements regarding factors that may promote a greater contribution to the school wellness environment and were asked to rate their level of agreement using a scale of 4 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree). Table 4 presents the means and standard deviations for each of the 28 statements in descending order of agreement. Although 26 of 28 statements received mean agreement ratings of 3.00 or higher, the greatest levels of agreement were reported for “financial support for school wellness initiatives” (3.40 ± 0.66), “time to devote to wellness initiatives” (3.34 ± 0.65), “support from parents” (3.32 ± 0.68), “support from school administration and teachers” (3.31 ± 0.73), and “employment benefits and incentives for personal wellness” (3.25 ± 0.72). Thus, factors most perceived as promoting a greater contribution to school wellness included those related to financial support, time, and support for wellness initiatives from other involved parties. Other studies have identified funding and time issues (Longley & Sneed, 2009; McDonnell & Probart, 2008; McDonnell et al., 2006) and lack of support from other involved parties (Longley & Sneed, 2009; McDonnell & Probart, 2008) as barriers to wellness policy development and implementation. Support for personal wellness and adequate information, training, and resources also were perceived as conducive to a greater contribution to wellness initiatives.

 Table 4. Factors Associated with a Greater Contribution to School Wellness

 Statement

N

Mean ± SDa

 Financial support for school wellness initiatives

444

3.40 ± 0.66

 Time to devote to wellness initiatives

445

3.34 ± 0.65

 Support from parents

456

3.32 ± 0.68

 Support from school administration and teachers

452

3.31 ± 0.73

 Employment benefits and incentives for personal wellness

443

3.25 ± 0.72

 Support from the community

451

3.23 ± 0.66

 Wellness activities/programs provided in the work place

440

3.17 ± 0.70

 Support from the state agency on wellness resources

454

3.14 ± 0.73

 Information for measuring SN outcomes

453

3.09 ± 0.67

 Training related to nutrition and wellness

438

3.08 ± 0.80

 Information regarding expectation of my role

449

3.08 ± 0.76

 Access to varied wellness resources

450

3.04 ± 0.65

 Financial resources dedicated to personal wellness

442

3.03 ± 0.82

 Knowledge about nutrition

453

3.02 ± 0.74

 Time to devote to personal lifestyle changes

443

3.00 ± 0.83

 Training related to healthy cooking techniques

452

2.99 ± 0.81

 Leadership skills to implement school wellness initiatives

450

2.98 ± 0.79

 Note. SN = School Nutrition
 aThe response scale was a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 4 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree).


CONCLUSIONS AND APPLICATION

This study assessed the perceptions of SN directors and managers regarding their roles in school wellness, the responsibility of SN professionals to serve as role models for health, and factors promoting greater involvement in school wellness. Results indicated that participants believed that SN professionals have an important role to play in school wellness and that they have a personal responsibility to model healthy behaviors to school children. SN directors and managers rated roles related to food safety, availability of food choices, encouraging healthy diets in children, and modeling personal wellness as most important to their professional positions. Roles rated as least important included grant writing to fund wellness initiatives and assessing and evaluating wellness initiatives. In general, the roles rated as most important were roles in which participants reported the greatest level of involvement, although participants reported little involvement in many roles. Overall, participants assigned more importance to and reported greater involvement in roles related to the development of wellness initiatives, as compared to implementation and evaluation of wellness initiatives. Factors perceived as promoting a greater contribution to school wellness included those related to financial support, time to devote to wellness activities, support from other involved parties, support for personal wellness, and adequate information, training, and resources.

Regarding the importance of serving as positive role models for school children, both health behaviors and weight status were perceived to be important, with slightly more importance being assigned to behaviors. Weight status was perceived as negatively impacting the ability to serve as a role model for obese, but not overweight or underweight, SN professionals. Participants also agreed that wellness activities designed for SN professionals should be included in school wellness initiatives, and that staff wellness initiatives encourage SN professionals to make positive changes in personal health behaviors. Although serving as a positive role model and personal lifestyle behaviors were perceived as important, many participants indicated that no wellness activities had been implemented for SN staff. When available, the most commonly reported wellness activities for SN staff were nutrition promotions and programs.

In conclusion, SN directors and managers considered all roles related to school wellness important. However, they reported little to no involvement in many roles assessed, suggesting the potential for a much greater role for SN directors and managers in school wellness. Factors promoting a greater contribution to school wellness identified in this study will be helpful in expanding the roles of SN directors and managers in school wellness.

One limitation to this research study was the overall response rate to the mailed survey instrument. At 33%, the response rate was lower than desired. In addition, the participant sample was primarily Caucasian or White (90.5%). Finally, only 33.8% of the respondents who provided information on their current job position were SN managers. The low response rate for SN managers may be due to SN directors not distributing survey packets to managers, or due to SN directors not following up on survey packets that were distributed. All of these issues may cause concern for the ability to generalize the results.

Recommendations for education and training based on study results include the development of education materials to increase the awareness of SN directors and managers regarding the many potential ways in which they may play an important role in school wellness. Education materials should illustrate the important contributions of SN directors and managers in model districts/schools. Training also must be provided to support the expanded roles that SN directors and managers may play in school wellness, to ensure that these professionals have the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in these new roles. Finally, expectations about the roles of SN directors and managers in school wellness must be adequately communicated. Education materials for state or district wellness coordinators are also needed and should emphasize the factors perceived as promoting a greater contribution to school wellness identified in this study, as these should be helpful in expanding the roles of SN directors and managers in school wellness. In addition, education materials should address the importance of role modeling within the school environment as a way of promoting healthy behaviors in students. Because they are role models within the SN environment, health promotion programs for SN professionals should be developed as a part of school wellness programs in order to promote the adoption of personal healthy behaviors.

Findings from this study also suggest the need for additional research. Case studies of successful programs should be conducted to illustrate the innovative ways in which SN directors and managers have contributed to the school wellness environment and to identify strategies employed to gain the “buy-in” and participation of these SN professionals in school wellness initiatives. Best practices for successfully engaging SN directors and managers in school wellness should be developed. Research also is needed to assess the utilization of personal wellness programs for SN professionals, and assess the outcomes associated with these programs. This research should include investigating the relationship between the personal health behaviors and attitudes of SN professionals and their degree of support for and involvement in school wellness initiatives.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This manuscript has been produced by the National Food Service Management Institute – Applied Research Division, located at The University of Southern Mississippi with headquarters at The University of Mississippi. Funding for the Institute has been provided with federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service to The University of Mississippi. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The University of Mississippi or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

The information provided in this manuscript is the result of independent research produced by NFSMI and is not necessarily in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) policy. FNS is the federal agency responsible for all federal domestic child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program. Individuals are encouraged to contact their local child nutrition program sponsor and/or their Child Nutrition State Agency should there appear to be a conflict with the information contained herein, and any state or federal policy that governs the associated Child Nutrition Program. For more information on the federal Child Nutrition Programs please visit www.fns.usda.gov/cnd.

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BIOGRAPHY

Bounds Stinson is a Researcher in Eads, TN. Lofton is a Research Scientist for the National Food Service Management Institute Applied Research Division at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS.



 
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