Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Michael Zemel

Committee Members

Sonya Jones, Carol Costello, Gary Truett, Tara Wass


Objective: This research project consisted of three studies designed to investigate intermediate school teachers’ classroom food-related practices and perceptions of the school nutrition environment

Setting: The setting for this project was a rural county in the southern region of East Tennessee

Design: This project used a mixed-methods approach to investigate teachers’ food-related practices and perceptions of the school nutrition environment, including grounded theory methodology, secondary data analysis, and a cross-sectional survey.

Analyses: For the first study, the transcribed data were coded using open, axial, and selective coding and constant comparison of data. For the second study, descriptive and inferential statistics were used to compare teachers’ themes to student BMI and 24-hour recall data. For the final study, a factor analysis and regression analysis was used to determine what factors were predictive of teacher food-related classroom practices.

Results: Rich details were obtained and a logic model was developed from the in-depth interviews in the first study. The second study yielded numerous significant results, including those which demonstrated that lunches students brought from home had significantly greater mean ranks of percent calories from carbohydrate and grams of total sugar and significantly less mean ranks of percent calories from protein and grams of fiber than lunches purchased at school. The factor analysis and descriptive statistics from the final study showed that many teachers used candy, pizza, and soft drinks as rewards, while fewer used more healthy food alternatives. Additionally, the regression analysis showed that years teaching at current school was predictive of less frequently reported use of teacher food-related practices that supported healthful eating among students, while a less supportive attitude regarding the school environment was predictive of more frequent reported use of less healthful classroom food-related practices

Conclusions: Teachers were able to identify key areas in the school environment that may have influenced students’ diet quality and weight status. However, there were mixed results when comparing teacher-identified themes about the school nutrition environment with student BMI and 24-hour recall data. In addition, many teachers used classroom food-related practices that were not supportive of healthful eating behaviors among students.

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