Food is Elementary has demonstrated remarkable success in improving the physical and mental health of children and teens. Documented results have included:
- The development of preference for fruits, vegetables and whole foods over processed junk foods
- Reduced Body Mass Index and improved general health in school children within just weeks of educational intervention
- A welcomed introduction of plant-based entrees into the school lunch program
- Parents choosing healthier foods due to the influence of their children
- Dramatic improvement in the behavior, mind set and academic performance of troubled teens
Below is a brief summary of the results obtained from select research-based projects that have introduced the Food is Elementary curriculum into schools.
Hampstead Hill Academy
2004 – ongoing
In 2003, the Food Studies Institute was invited by a group of interested parties from the non-profit and foundation community to develop a food education program in Baltimore. In 2004, the Weinberg Foundation funded a pilot study at Hampstead Hill Academy, a public charter school operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project. The “Food for Life” pilot study took place in the 2004-2005 school year. A food educator was hired and approximately 75 students in grades 3-6 received 45 minutes of instruction weekly throughout the school year. A school garden was developed and students worked with an artist to create beautiful, educational murals in the cafeteria. The first year was highly successful in terms of student learning outcomes, community engagement, and program development. The Food Studies Institute partnered with many local organizations including Fusion Partnerships, Whole Foods, school food service personnel, parents, artists, farmers, builders, and businesses. Grants were obtained to continue the study for 2 additional years, and in the fourth year the cost of the program was fully incorporated into the school budget and remains a permanent part of the curriculum, nearly 20 years later. Hampstead Hill Academy has grown to nearly 900 students in PreK through 8th grade who participate in Food is Elementary lessons in addition to culinary arts club, garden club, International Night, and Community Arts Nights.
· 96% of students improved their Nutrition Knowledge test scores, with an average improvement of 40%, after the curriculum had been taught
Click the buttons below to read articles about some of our work in Baltimore over the years.
St. Joseph Grade School
South Bend, Indiana
2004 – 2005
A collaborative project between Food Studies Institute, 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. Dr. Antonia Demas and Tish Kelly-Holmes, M.D. were the project leaders, and many organizations from the community were involved. Of those exposed to the FIE curriculum, Health and Educational findings include:
- On average, Nutrition Knowledge test scores improved by 99% for children and 96% for adults, after the curriculum had been taught.
- 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.
Bay Point School for Boys
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.
The Food Studies Institute was invited by the school 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 document 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.
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.
To find out about the Bay Point Pilot Study from the students’ perspective, click the button below to read the student’s journal entries.
8 Hawaiian Language Immersion Schools
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.
January 1997 – 2005
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 eight years. 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.
- Each classroom evaluated showed children changing their favorite foods from unhealthy to healthy options, with a total of 64 nutritious foods being added;
- 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%;
- 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;”
- 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.
Miami Dade School District and Florida International University (FIU)
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, (1998 – 1999) demonstrated the following results out of a sample of 248 students:
- 60% of students reported that their eating habits had improved as a direct result of the program;
- 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;
- 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.”
Food Acceptance Study, Ph.D., Cornell University
September 1993 – June 1994
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 doctoral research which was conducted in Trumansburg, NY. Her data demonstrated that:
- 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);
- 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.