PROJECTS & RESEARCH

Research Summaries

Below is a brief summary of some of the results obtained from research-based projects that have introduced the Food is Elementary curriculum into schools.

Food Acceptance Study, Ph.D., Cornell University

Trumansburg, NY

September 1993 – June 1994

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Antonia Demas entered a Ph.D. program in 1991 to scientifically validate her 25 years of work in the area of nutrition education, which she completed at Cornell University in January 1995.  The Food is Elementary (FIE) curriculum is an outgrowth of her award-winning[1] doctoral research which was conducted in Trumansburg, NY. Her data demonstrated that:

RESULTS:

Eating behavior

  • After sensory experience in the classroom with 16 new nutritious commodity-based foods, the intervention students ate significantly greater amounts of these foods when served in the lunch room. This was up to 20 times more than the control students, who rarely touched the new food over the course of the year;
  • 35% of the parents from the intervention group reported positive changes in family eating behaviors. These improvements were based upon what the participating students taught the family (the “trickle up” effect);

Academic achievement

  • 100% of students in the intervention group improved in their knowledge of food, nutrition, and multiculturalism during the year. As one student wrote, “I learned about some customs in my parent’s home countries that I didn’t know existed!”
  • (USDA, Most Creative Implementation of the Dietary Guidelines, 1994, Society for Nutrition Education, Excellence in Nutrition Education, 1994.)

Miami Dade School District and Florida International University (FIU)

Miami, Florida

September 1998 – June 1999

A pilot study conducted in collaboration with Florida International University and four of the most at-risk elementary schools in Miami demonstrated the following results out of a sample of 248 students: 

RESULTS

Eating behavior

  • 60% of students reported that their eating habits had improved as a direct result of the program;

Academic achievement

  • 100% of the students learned elements of nutrition objectives specified in the Miami-Dade County schools health curriculum;
  • 80% of students expressed a desire to see the FIE recipes served in the school lunch program and said they would choose these foods if offered;

Family

  • 71% of students reported that they cook the Food Is Elementary (FIE) curriculum recipes at home.

One school principal commented that, “Students, teachers, and parents have reported to me that their understanding of nutrition has improved 100% as a result of the program.  The children enjoyed the project tremendously.  It was broadening for them to experience diversity and the opportunity to try something new.”

Vermont Food Education Every Day (FEED)

Vermont

 January 1997 – Ongoing

A collaborative research project between the Food Studies Institute, North-East Organic Farming Association (NOFA), Food Works and the Shelburne Museum.

Dr. Demas was the consultant for the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) program for nearly a decade. VT FEED works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition. They act as a catalyst for rebuilding healthy food systems, and cultivate links between the classrooms, cafeterias, local farms, and communities.

RESULTS:

Eating behavior

  • Each classroom evaluated showed children changing their favorite foods from unhealthy to healthy options, with a total of 64 nutritious foods being added;

Academic achievement

  • All students receiving the Food is Elementary curriculum showed improvements in food and nutrition knowledge. The mean increase between the pre and post-test scores was 35%;

Family

  • Out of 120 parents responding to the survey, 81% reported positive changes in their child’s eating behavior;
  • Out of 124 parents responding to a question about whether they wanted nutrition to be a permanent part of their child’s curriculum all but one answered “yes;”

Community involvement

  • Participating teachers and principals want nutrition education to occur, being aware that a lack of nutrition knowledge can have detrimental affects on children’s health.

8 Hawaiian Language Immersion Schools

Hawaii

 2001 – 2005

Dr. Demas was the consultant on the Healthy Hawaiian Initiative, funded through the health department, for 4 years. This program teaches students in 8 language immersion schools (primarily for Native Hawaiians) about food, nutrition, growing native plants, and health. Students help prepare nutritious lunches and cook dinner with their families every other week at the school. This project has been extremely successful in improving the health of these students and their families.

Students Planting Taro in Hawaii

Bay Point School for Boys

Miami, Florida

February – May, 2001

The Bay Point Pilot Study was conducted as part of a food, nutrition, and cooking program to educate staff and students about healthy eating and the role food plays in health, academic performance, and behavior.  The Bay Point School for Boys in Miami, Florida, is a residential school for teenage males who have been sent to Bay Point by the courts.

Dr. Demas was invited by the administration to develop healthier options in the cafeteria and design a culinary arts/nutrition curriculum as a vocational choice for students. Nineteen students signed up to take the culinary arts course, along with the kitchen staff.  Because the interest and cooperation students and staff showed in nutrition, Dr. Demas suggested that she design a pilot study to evaluate the effect healthy food has upon student health, behavior, and academic performance.

Nineteen (19) students participated in the study. For three weeks they prepared and ate only plant-based meals, drank eight glasses of water a day and kept journals documenting personal experience. All of these students reported improvements in: grade point averages, athletic performance, aggressive behavior, acne, strength, and overall well being. Most of the students also reported weight loss.

RESULTS:

Medical results interpreted by Dr. Harvey Zarren, cardiologist, Lynn, MA.

Four (4) students of the eleven (11) who had pre and post study blood levels had starting total cholesterol levels above 150mgm/dl. All of these students had decreased levels of total cholesterol at the end of the three week study period. The decreases varied from 3 to 23%, average 15%. Traditional preventive cardiology wisdom teaches that a 1% drop in total cholesterol results in a 2% drop in risk of future heart attacks. Thus a 15% drop in total cholesterol, if sustained, might decrease the risk of   future heart disease by 30%, a significant reduction in risk.

Homocysteine levels dropped an average of 28%, but levels were not measured fasting, so the results are interesting but not clearly significant. Elevated homocysteine is implicated in arterial and venous disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Animal source proteins contain three (3) times the amount of methionine compared to plant source protein. Methionine is the precursor of homocysteine. It is reasonable that changing from an animal source food diet to a plant based diet will lower homocysteine levels and likely lower the risk of vascular disease and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

Seven (7) of the eleven (11) patients who had blood work done had weight loss ranging from one (1) to two (2) kilograms over the month long study. The average weight loss was 1.4 kilograms or three (3) pounds.  Obesity is epidemic in young people in the United States. A dietary change that can result in weight loss will help to prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease and can likely cut the risk of common cancers such as colon cancer.

The Bay Point Study is very interesting for its behavioral and subjective results. The small amount of data, while not statistically significant is also very interesting. The idea that such a short term study can decrease weight, decrease elevated cholesterol levels quite significantly and might also decrease homocysteine levels need further research.

Among the benefits of changing to plant based diets is the potential improvement in vascular function affecting skeletal muscles and the blood supply to organs such as the heart. Arteries which supply oxygenated blood and fuel to muscles in the body are constantly opening and closing to alter blood supply to various parts of the body. The arteries open or enlarge under the influence of a substance called endothelial derived relaxing factor which signals the muscle cuff around arteries to relax, allowing the arteries to open or dilate. Studies have shown that ingestion of a fatty meal can decrease or stop production of relaxing factor for up to six hours in normal subjects. Such people have decreased muscle blood supply during that time. Plant based diets are intrinsically lower in fat than are animal based diets and would be expected to affect blood vessel function less adversely.

Fruit Prepared by Bay Point Culinary Arts Students

To find out about the Bay Point Pilot Study from the students’ perspective, click the button below to read the student’s journal entries.

St. Joseph Grade School

South Bend, Indiana

September 2004 – May 2005

A collaborative project between Dr. Demas, the Food Studies Institute, Tish Kelly-Holmes, M.D., Memorial Hospital, Martin’s Grocery Store, and St. Joseph Grade School.

This project looked at improvements in health and educational measures in both children and adults being taught the Food is Elementary curriculum. We were also able to monitor changes in shopping behavior that were influenced through learning about healthy foods. This shopping data is still under analysis and will be released soon. Of those exposed to the FIE curriculum, Health and Educational findings include:

RESULTS:

Academic achievement

  • On average, Nutrition Knowledge test scores improved by 99% for children and 96% for adults, after the curriculum had been taught.

Health improvements

  • An 89% average improvement in health scores for both groups
  • A decrease in BMI (Body Mass Index) for 49 out of 68 children (adjusted for growth): 72% change
  • A decrease in BMI for 33 out of 42 adults: 79% change
  • Out of the 21 students whose BMI’s were in the 85th to 97th percentile at the beginning of the study, (30% of those tested), 6 were no longer in this category at the end of the study, with 22% considered obese at the end of the five month period

Hampstead Hill Academy

Baltimore, Maryland

2004 – Ongoing

In October 2003, a proposal for Dr. Demas to develop a food education project was solicited by a group of interested parties from the non-profit and foundation community in Baltimore. Several foundations gave seed money to further explore making this happen, and in ultimately the Weinberg Foundation announced they would fund the proposal. The Food Studies Institute partnered with Fusion Partnerships, a Baltimore non-profit, who administered the funds and supported the project. Fusion sent a letter of inquiry to several schools and Matthew Hornbeck, from Hampstead Hill Academy, was the first principal to respond. In November 2004, the “Food for Life” pilot study began. A food educator was hired and approximately 75 students in grades 3-6 received 45 minutes of instruction weekly throughout the school year. The first year was highly successful in terms of student learning, community engagement, and program development. Parents, food service personnel, local artists, and businesses were all involved in this study. A school garden was developed and students worked with artist Spoon Popkin to create beautiful, educational murals in the cafeteria. Grants were obtained to continue the study for 2 additional years; in year 4 the cost of the program was fully incorporated into the school budget and has been a permanent part of the curriculum for almost 20 years.

Academic achievement

  • 96% of students improved their Nutrition Knowledge test scores, with an average improvement of 40%, after the curriculum had been taught

Food is Elementary has been taught in many Baltimore City Public Schools including Hampstead Hill Academy, the Stadium School, Patterson Park Public Charter School, Mt. Washington Elementary, Southwest Charter School, Baltimore Green School, Midtown Academy, City Springs after school program, City Neighbors Charter School, Great Kids Farm Youth Apprenticeship Program, the Franciscan Youth Center, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, and others.

Click the buttons below to read articles about some of our work in Baltimore over the years.

[1] USDA, Most Creative Implementation of the Dietary Guidelines, 1994, Society for Nutrition Education, Excellence in Nutrition Education, 1994.

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