Assessment of middle school students' attitudes and factors influencing their participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
Chesser, Vicky Lynn
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Purpose of this study was to determine how middle school students' participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is influenced by student/school demographics, school lunch practices and policies, and student attitudes regarding cafeteria setting, food acceptability, and school foodservice staff. Eighty-two seventh grade students participated in 6 focus groups at a selected school district in Louisiana. Focus group discussions elicited student opinions on foods served for school lunch, school foodservice staff, the cafeteria setting, and possible changes to increase participation in the NSLP. Based on focus group results, a survey was developed, validated, and pilot tested. The survey used a Likert-type scale to measure students' attitudes regarding school lunch food acceptability, cafeteria setting, and school foodservice staff. Survey materials, including passive parental permission forms, were mailed to 143 NSLP schools throughout Louisiana. A total of 648 student surveys from 27 schools were returned (19% overall response rate). The majority of participants were female (51.0%) and Caucasian (71.0%) with 20.5% African-American. Approximately one-half (50.9%) participated in free/reduced lunch. Student survey responses ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5) showed overall low rankings for school cafeteria setting (2.66±0.82), food acceptability (2.44±0.77) and school foodservice staff (3.37±1.0). There was no significant relationship between students' attitudes based on race, amount paid for lunch, school size, or school level eligibility for free/reduced price lunch. However, girls' rankings (3.49 ± 0.91) for school foodservice staff were significantly higher than boys' rankings (3.14 ± 1.07) (p = 0.006). Prior knowledge of the menu, the menu being posted where it can be seen and the cafeteria serving the food on the menu showed significant relationships (p = <0.001 for all) to students' attitudes concerning cafeteria setting, food acceptability, and school foodservice staff. Low ratings for cafeteria setting, food acceptability and school foodservice staff, indicate opportunities for improvement within Louisiana school lunch programs. This study indicates a need for using multiple media to advertise menus and ensuring menu choices are available to all students. Additionally, incorporating student nutrition advisory groups would be beneficial, as understanding youths' preferences provides valuable information for improving participation in the NSLP.