Intervention Research Studies

At the Center for Food and Environment, our nutrition education intervention research studies are based on behavioral nutrition theories — theories that are comprised of factors that influence what we choose to eat and describe the process of how people make behavior changes. Dr. Isobel Contento, a member of the CFE team, created a six-step procedure for developing effective nutrition education that is described in her textbook. We use this model to develop all of our nutrition education curricula and interventions. This evidence-based work is rigorously evaluated.

Cookshop Evaluation: When they cook it, they will eat it
In 1996, the Cookshop Program was evaluated in two NYC public schools. It was the first known study to investigate if cooking and eating were more effective at changing behavior than standard classroom nutrition education without food experiences. The results showed that children who cooked vegetables and whole grain recipes in the classroom, and then ate them with their peers, were more likely to try those foods in school lunch than children who received standard nutrition education without the experience of eating the food, or children who received no nutrition education. In the lunchroom, all children were offered the new vegetable and whole grain recipes many times over the five-month intervention period. This demonstrates that only changing what is offered in the lunchroom, without being accompanied by classroom experiences with the new recipes, is not enough for students to try, and accept, new, more healthful foods.

Evidence-base for Growing Food and Farm to Table & Beyond: Teaching students to understand our food system
The Growing Food and Farm to Table & Beyond modules of LiFE were field-tested by more than 4,000 students in New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Texas, and California. In 1999-2000 the Center for Food & Environment worked in partnership with the New York City Department of Education to conduct a controlled research study of the Growing Food and Farm to Table & Beyond modules in three schools and 24 classrooms (12 intervention classrooms that received the LiFE modules and 12 comparison classrooms that received the standard science curriculum used in the school.) Students who were taught the LiFE lessons significantly increased their understanding of organisms and environments; the flow of energy and the cycling of matter through ecosystems; sustainable food systems; and the interactions of science, technology, and society. This was exemplified by students progressing from understanding the food system as isolated parts to being able to explain the system as a whole with interacting parts. Students also were able to describe impacts of the food system on the natural environment.

The curriculum also positively influenced students’ abilities to reason their way through scientific problems and processes. Teachers reported that they came to feel comfortable and confident with the LiFE curriculum as an effective and enjoyable way to address not only national science education standards but also state standards and district expectations as well. Furthermore, participating parents enjoyed helping in the classroom and also deepened their own understandings of energy, food, and the environment. Funded by Science Education Partnership Award of the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Evidence-base for Choice, Control & Change: Using Science to Make Food & Activity Decisions: Changing eating and activity behavior
Choice, Control & Change (C3) has been extensively field-tested by teachers in New York, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania involving more than 4,000 students. C3 is usually taught in science class and is focused on inquiry-based investigations. C3 has also been vigorously evaluated. 500 students participated in the first outcome, or formative evaluation. Then, 1,100 students (10 schools – 5 intervention, 5 control) participated in a randomized, controlled trial as a summative evaluation. This was followed by a controlled dissemination study involving 800 students that used a lead teacher model with little CFE researcher support. The results of these studies were consistent: students who received the C3 lessons reported drinking fewer sweetened beverages; eating fewer processed, packaged snacks; choosing smaller portions at fast-food restaurants; increasing purposeful walking; and decreasing leisure screen time than students who received the standard science curriculum. These behaviors can lead to balancing energy in from food with balancing energy used for activity. C3 students also demonstrated positive changes in psychosocial determinants of behavior change. The psychosocial theory framework for C3 was a combination of two theories: Social Cognitive Theory and Self-determination Theory. Funded by Science Education Partnership Award of the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Creature 101 Evaluation Study
In partnership with Stottler Henke Associates, Inc., from 2008-2011 we are developing and evaluating Creature 101, an online game. The game’s content mirrors the content of the Choice, Control & Change (C3) curriculum. Creature 101 has similar target behaviors: increase fruits and vegetables and decrease processed, packaged snacks; increase water and decrease sweetened beverages; increase physical activities; and decrease recreational screen time. The psychosocial theories that provide the framework for the game’s activities are Social Cognitive Theory and Self-determination Theory. Funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Cocinar para su Salud evaluation
From 2009-2011, we are collaborating with the Columbia School of Public Health and Cook for Your Life to develop a behavioral nutrition intervention for Hispanic women who are breast cancer survivors. Through this intervention, these Hispanic women will learn cooking skills that will increase their intake of fruits and vegetables and decrease their intake of dietary fat (through smaller portions of meat, reduced fat from meats, smaller portions of dairy, and smaller amounts of fat used in cooking). Funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Research Study on Food Health & Choices
A four-year research study, from 2009-2013, with fifth grade students, combines policy and education. We are examining the synergistic effect of classroom curriculum and wellness policy implementation. The curriculum addresses why to and how to eat healthfully, while the wellness policy creates model food and activity environments in the classroom and throughout the school. To examine the impact on students, twenty schools will participate, and will be divided, by random assignment, into four groups: curriculum and wellness policy; curriculum only; wellness policy only; and delayed controls. Watch for more details.