Ninety percent of all public high schools in the United States teach ninth- and 10th-graders basic nutrition, while 80 percent offer nutrition education to 11th- and 12th-graders, too, according to the Institute of Education Sciences. The overall goal in teaching nutrition to high school students is to give them the tools they need to make healthy eating choices for a lifetime. The way the nutrition curriculum looks across public high schools can vary, but almost all of them attempt to accomplish similar goals.
Nutrition Curriculum Goals
There are three major goals in place when teaching nutrition in public schools. One goal is to present the facts about making nutritious eating choices in a way that's applicable to the students' lives. A second goal is to replace unhealthy eating attitudes with more appropriate attitudes toward nutrition and health. The final goal is to teach students how to choose healthy foods so they can put their knowledge into practice.
Under the three main goals of a nutrition curriculum, specific topics are introduced based on the age level of the students. Because high school students can learn more abstract concepts and engage in more complex thinking, they might be introduced to several nutrition concepts. For example, high school students might learn about various nutrients, such as fiber and protein, and what foods contain them, such as whole grains and lean meat. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the role nutritious foods play in overall health, eating disorders, weight control and body image are additional topics that many schools include in their nutrition curriculum. The exact topics taught can vary across states depending on specific state standards.
The majority of high schools rely on textbooks to introduce nutrition and health concepts. Schools sometimes go outside the textbook, however, to include materials from governmental organizations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture MyPlate program. MyPlate teaches how to identify healthy foods, how to include nutritious foods in the daily diet and how much of each food group to include in that daily diet. These materials are often free and highlight such topics as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains and limiting intake of saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
Many high schools teach students about nutrition through government-funded school meal programs. For example, a teacher might accompany students to the lunch room and show them the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods and how to choose the most nutritious options. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that some high schools encourage student input regarding foods offered in the cafeteria. This can encourage students to make an effort to adopt a healthier diet. Guest speakers and school-wide health fairs are additional activities that many schools use.