By Susan Benson, Wofford College
When elementary school students learn to make healthy eating choices at school, they will begin making those choices at home and, perhaps, influence their families to eat healthily as well. That’s the philosophy behind Boss’ Healthy Buddies, a free nutrition education resource for grades K-4 that Dr. David W. Pittman, professor of psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Wofford College, and his students are making available to all South Carolina elementary schools.
“The ultimate goal of Boss’ Healthy Buddies is teaching youngsters about nutrition,” said Samantha Baker, a senior accounting major from Beaufort, S.C. “We can educate the children to make healthier choices at school, and we can motivate them to make those healthy decisions at home as well. Boss’ Healthy Buddies brings awareness to families as well.”
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Boss’ Healthy Buddies offers a variety of free materials, encouraging schools to teach students about nutrition and motivate them to develop healthy eating habits. The most popular resource is a nutrition curriculum for each grade. The 15- to 20-minute lessons match a South Carolina education standard so teachers easily can incorporate nutrition information into their weekly lesson plans. The nutrition lessons apply to skills ranging from reading to multiplication.
Baker and Caitlin Shealy, a senior from Columbia, S.C., majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology and anthropology, are the student leaders for Boss’ Healthy Buddies. They are spearheading efforts to put the program into K-4 programs in every elementary school in the state, sending invitation letters to all of the principals – more than 700.
Boss’ Healthy Buddies – named for Wofford’s mascot, Boss – complements Healthy Eating Decisions, a program Pittman developed that allows participating schools to enter the nutritional information for their cafeteria lunches and have a calculator identify the healthiest combination of entrée and two side items each day. “Schools are encouraged to find a means to motivate students to choose the healthiest option, such as ringing a bell for public recognition of their choice or competitions between grades,” he said.
Jesse Boyd Elementary School in Spartanburg District 7 was the first to implement both programs, Healthy Eating Decisions in 2009 and Boss’ Healthy Buddies in 2017. Pine Street Elementary School, also in District 7, and Oakland Elementary School in District 2 have used the Healthy Eating Decisions program since 2011.
Baker and Shealy said they want to continue the efforts to expand the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program throughout South Carolina. Shealy, who has been part of the program for two years, taught a lesson on nutrition to four classes and witnessed the children’s enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle. She also wants to encourage fellow Wofford students to become involved with Boss’ Healthy Buddies.
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Pittman has the science to back up the Healthy Eating Decision program’s effectiveness. A study of the program was published in the International Journal of Obesity. It provides evidence that positive reinforcement can increase healthy eating choices during school lunches. Another study published in the Journal of Obesity provides evidence that Boss’ Healthy Buddies is an effective nutrition education resource.
For this study, Pittman and Wofford students looked at three schools that took different approaches with their nutrition education. The first school implemented the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program; the second school lacked any nutrition education program; and the final school paid for a commercially available nutrition education program. Based on pre- and post-tests of nutrition knowledge, the school using the free Boss’ Healthy Buddies resources was comparable to the school that paid for similar resources.
Wofford students involved in the program have honed their leadership skills, Pittman added. They have contacted principals and superintendents, created age-appropriate nutrition curriculums, visited schools implementing the programs and participated in school health fairs. “Much like students who choose to start a business in entrepreneurship, this is an outlet for students who want to promote healthy eating and nutrition awareness,” Pittman said.
This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Wofford College website.