Program Evaluations: Fourth Grade Students Learn to Make Healthful Food Choices

Nutrition Pathfinders

Fourth Grade Students Improve Nutrition Knowledge and Attitudes and Make Better Food Choices with Nutrition Pathfinders

Full Evaluation Results

Evaluation Summary

The Nutrition Pathfinders nutrition education program consists of seven lessons that include interactive activities, simulations, and reflections taught by classroom teachers. Aligned with California’s Common Core Content Standards, California’s National Health Education Standards, and current psychological theory, each lesson is designed specifically for fourth graders. For example, the Nutrition Pathfinders program includes age-appropriate critical thinking skills, such as planning, goal-setting, and creating and analyzing food records. An evaluation of our program has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Behavioral Medicine. Nutrition Pathfinders has a moderate public health impact using the RE-AIM framework indicating that class time spent on nutrition education has a positive effect on student choices.

Lessons Cover
  • The five food groups and their main nutrients
  • Estimating appropriate serving sizes using hand symbols
  • How to be physically active for 60 minutes each day
  • Creating and evaluating food records
  • Planning and setting goals to help improve healthy eating and physical activity
Program Materials
  • Teacher’s Guide
  • Student’s workbook (English and Spanish versions)
  • Family letter and homework activities
  • Supplemental visual materials
Key findings from research evaluating the program
  • Over 150,000 fourth grade students attending public elementary schools in California received the Nutrition Pathfinders program in 2011-2012.
  • The program increased students’ consumption of foods from the five food groups, including whole grains, proteins, and fruits.
  • The program decreased students’ consumption of foods high in empty calories and high sugar drinks.
  • Parents reported that children read food labels, wanted to try new foods, and talked about eating balanced meals more often after completing the program.
  • The program and homework activities increased parents’ frequency of serving foods from the five food groups.
  • Teachers indicated that they generally liked all of the lessons, and that the lessons were easy to teach and well designed for their students.

The Nutrition Pathfinders program led to greater changes in fourth grade students’ nutritional intake compared to other similar nutrition education programs for younger children, and many of those changes lasted longer than what has been observed for younger children. The sustained changes observed in fourth graders may be due to the Nutrition Pathfinders program targeting more advanced critical thinking skills, or perhaps the positive changes observed in parent nutrition behaviors.

About the Study

A formative evaluation was conducted by researchers at RTI International and the University of Southern California during the 2011-2012 school year. Forty-seven fourth grade classrooms from public elementary schools in California were randomly assigned to either an Intervention or Control groups to evaluate the effectiveness of the program, which included over 1,700 children and over 1,200 parents of those children. The evaluation tested changes in students’ nutrition knowledge, attitudes towards nutrition, and healthy and unhealthy dietary intake, as well as changes in parent nutrition related behaviors and attitudes towards nutrition. Students were measured prior to participating in the program, after participating, and again three months later to test changes in important variables. Read the full evaluation report here.

View Fourth Grade Nutrition Pathfinders program materials.

Nutrition programs are free to California teachers and available for a nominal cost for teachers from other states.

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Teacher Comments

[Student] working knowledge is more well rounded with regards to how much and what food is best for them and their families. I would teach with this program next year!
I noticed students bringing in healthier snacks to school. Also, when I held parent teacher conferences, some of the parents gave positive feedback about how their child used "3 out of 5 and 5 out of 5" food groupings in the conversations at the dinner table. That really amazed me!

Dairy Council of California extends a warm thank you to all the participating teachers and students that took the time to implement Nutrition Pathfinders and provide feedback on the lessons.