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School Site Visits for Community-Based Participatory Research on Healthy Eating

      Background

      School nutrition policies are gaining support as a means of addressing childhood obesity. Community-based participatory research (CBPR) offers an approach for academic and community partners to collaborate to translate obesity-related school policies into practice. Site visits, in which trained observers visit settings to collect multilevel data (e.g., observation, qualitative interviews), may complement other methods that inform health promotion efforts. This paper demonstrates the utility of site visits in the development of an intervention to implement obesity-related policies in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle schools.

      Methods

      In 2006, trained observers visited four LAUSD middle schools. Observers mapped cafeteria layout; observed food/beverage offerings, student consumption, waste patterns, and duration of cafeteria lines; spoke with school staff and students; and collected relevant documents. Data were examined for common themes and patterns.

      Results

      Food and beverages sold in study schools met LAUSD nutritional guidelines, and nearly all observed students had time to eat most or all of their meal. Some LAUSD policies were not implemented, including posting nutritional information for cafeteria food, marketing school meals to improve student participation in the National School Lunch Program, and serving a variety of fruits and vegetables. Cafeteria understaffing and costs were obstacles to policy implementation.

      Conclusions

      Site visits were a valuable methodology for evaluating the implementation of school district obesity-related policies and contributed to the development of a CBPR intervention to translate school food policies into practice. Future CBPR studies may consider site visits in their toolbox of formative research methods.
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