New HEAL Study Explores School-Level Perspectives of the Ontario Nutrition Program

A team of researchers led by Mariam Ismail with Jason Gilliland, June Matthews, and Danielle Battram recently published a study entitled: “School-Level Perspectives of the Ontario School Nutrition Program.”

School food programs (SFP) have been identified as promising strategies for fostering children’s healthy development. The purpose of this study was to assess the implementation of a school snack program for children in elementary schools.

School-level program volunteers’ experiences were explored using semi-structured interviews. Fieldnotes were taken during on-site school visits. Quantitative data were collected through a General Information Form and Weekly Logbooks. Seven elementary schools in Southwestern Ontario were invited and agreed to participate. Interviews (n = 27) revealed that volunteers valued the program for its universality, the excitement it created, the opportunity for students to try new foods, and the social interactions that it generated. Challenges included the burden on snack volunteers to plan, procure, and prepare foods; the competition the program posed for school priorities; limited funding; and a lack of clear purpose for the program. Suggestions for improvement included providing adequate and sustained resources and an integration of the program into the curriculum. Data obtained from 15 on-site visits, 7 General Information Forms, and 59 (out of a total of 70) Weekly Logbooks confirmed the data obtained from interviews.

This research provides insights into the challenges of volunteer-led school snack programs in Canada and may guide policy makers, practitioners, and researchers in the development of a universal, nationally funded school food program.

Citation: Marian R. Ismail, Jason A. Gilliland, June I. Matthews, and Danielle S. Battram. “School-Level Perspectives of the Ontario School Nutrition Program.” Children 9, 177 (2022).

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