Teacher support and encouragement in the classroom and its impact on childhood obesity

Jessica Whitney Hammer, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Objectives. Obesity is a growing problem in the United States among children. Great efforts are being made to target this problem, both at home and at school. While parents and peers have proven an effective means of distributing information, the well of the influence of teacher encouragement of health behaviors remains untapped. The purpose of this study is to assess the association of teacher encouragement with diet and physical activity behaviors and obesity in a sample of eighth grade students in central Texas. Methods. In the spring of 2011, the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) study distributed teacher surveys to each of the teachers in the schools on the grant. In addition to questions concerning the implementation of CATCH, this survey employed social support questions to gauge the prevalence of teacher encouragement of health behaviors in the classroom. During the same time frame, eighth graders in these same schools completed student surveys which assessed dietary and physical activity knowledge and behaviors and demographics and participated in objective measures of student height and weight. A cross-sectional secondary data analysis was conducted in order to compare self-reported teacher encouragement to student behaviors and several student obesity measures on a by school basis. Results. 1150 teachers and 2582 students from 29 of the 30 measurement schools returned completed surveys. No statistically significant relationship was found between the six teacher encouragement measures and their corresponding student reported health behaviors, nor was one found the mean support per school and child percent overweight. A menial positive relationship was found between the mean support per school and child BMI z-scores, BMI, and percent obese (p = 0.035, 0.003 and 0.003, respectively); however, these relationships were not in the predicted direction. Conclusion. While the findings of this investigation show primarily null results, motivating questions as to the impact to teacher encouragement on middle school student's health remain. It is possible that in order to draw more effective conclusions, more comprehensive studies are warranted which specifically target these relationships.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Public health|Health education|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Hammer, Jessica Whitney, "Teacher support and encouragement in the classroom and its impact on childhood obesity" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1515588.