Date of Award

8-1-2013

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Food and Nutrition

First Advisor

Smith, Sylvia

Abstract

Food deserts are characterized by reduced access to fresh, healthy foods. In rural areas, children who live in food deserts may be at increased risk for obesity, and have increased need for school-based interventions that target obesity, such as those aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Teachers can facilitate healthy behaviors within students through nutrition education and monitoring. Because school gardens represent an important opportunity to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, thereby possibly reducing obesity in children, the purpose of this study is to understand teachers' awareness of their students' food access, their interest in school gardens, and their perceived barriers for incorporating a school garden program in a rural food desert area. The study surveyed one hundred and six teachers at six elementary schools in southern Illinois that were determined by the United States Department of Agriculture to be located in rural food deserts. Findings indicated that overall, teachers of grades four and five had the highest mean interest in using a school garden for academic instruction, and interest was highest in those who taught science, reading, and social studies. Additionally, while teachers had mixed agreement that their students had reduced access to fresh, healthy foods, this did not affect their interest in a school garden. Teachers surveyed indicated that time, funding, supplies, and growing season were the most significant barriers to using a school garden in their classroom. Future research should focus on educating teachers about their students' access to fresh, healthy foods. Additionally, future research should identify funding sources for school gardens, focus on integrating school gardens into valuable curriculum time, and promote volunteer involvement in school gardens, particularly during summer months when school is not in session.

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