Impact and process evaluation of a primary-school Food Education and Sustainability Training (FEAST) program in 10-12-year-old children in Australia: pragmatic cluster non-randomized controlled trial.

Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. , Rose Bay Nth, Australia, PO Box 2108, NSW, 2030. Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

BMC public health. 2024;(1):657
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BACKGROUND Environmentally sustainable food initiatives accompanying nutrition education, such as the Food Education and Sustainability Training (FEAST) program, have gained traction in school settings. The aim of this trial was to conduct an impact and process evaluation of FEAST, to evaluate its effect on children's fruit and vegetable (F&V) intakes, and secondary outcomes: F&V variety consumed, nutrition knowledge, food preparation/cooking skills, self-efficacy and behaviours, food waste knowledge and behaviours, and food production knowledge. METHODS FEAST was a 10-week curriculum-aligned program, designed to educate children about healthy eating, food waste, and sustainability, while teaching cooking skills. It was implemented by classroom teachers, face-to-face and online, during COVID-19 school closures, in Australia in 2021. A custom designed survey was used to collect baseline and post-intervention data from students. Generalised linear mixed models (GLMM) estimated group differences in pre-post changes for primary and secondary outcomes. Surveys were also administered to students and teachers to evaluate intervention implementation. RESULTS Twenty schools participated and self-selected to be either intervention schools (n = 10) or wait-list control (WLC) schools (n = 10). A total of 977, 5th and 6th grade children participated in the trial with a mean age of 11.1 years (SD ± 0.7). The FEAST intervention, compared to WLC, did not result in significant increases in primary outcomes nor secondary outcomes. The process evaluation revealed FEAST was well-received by students and teachers, but COVID-19 school closures hindered implementation fidelity with a less intense program delivered under the constraints of pandemic lockdowns. CONCLUSIONS This is the first cluster non-randomized controlled trial designed to independently evaluate FEAST in the primary-school setting. No evidence was found for improved F&V intakes in children, nor secondary outcomes. However, the positive process evaluation results suggest that further trials of the program are warranted. If implemented as originally designed (pre-pandemic), with increased duration and complemented by supporting school policies, such programs have the potential to improve children's daily F&V intakes, cooking skills and food waste behaviours. This would support the Australian curriculum and contribute to: health promotion within schools and sustainable schools initiatives, the national agenda to reduce food waste and sustainable development goals. AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND CLINICAL TRIALS REGISTRY [ACTRN12620001347954]- Registered prospectively on 14/12/2020.

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