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Impact of an intuitive eating education program on high school students’ eating attitudes

Nicole Healy (Heartland Area Education Agency 11, Johnston, IA, USA)
Elana Joram (Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations and Division of Health Promotion & Education, University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA, USA)
Oksana Matvienko (Division of Health Promotion & Education, University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA, USA)
Suzanne Woolf (Keystone AEA, Delhi, IA, USA)
Kimberly Knesting (Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, WI, USA)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 2 February 2015

Abstract

Purpose

There is a growing need for school-based nutritional educational programs that promote healthy eating attitudes without increasing an unhealthy focus on restrictive eating or promoting a poor body image. Research suggests that intuitive eating (IE) approaches, which encourage individuals to focus on internal body signals as a guide for eating, have had a positive impact on eating-related psychological outcomes in adults. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effects an IE education program on the eating attitudes of high school students.

Design/methodology/approach

In a quasi-experimental study, 48 high school students (30 females) in a Midwest town in the USA received instruction on IE or a comparison program over seven days during health classes. Repeated measures analyses of covariance were conducted to examine changes in eating attitudes in sexes across conditions.

Findings

Students who received the IE program made significantly greater gains in overall positive eating attitudes on the Intuitive Eating Scale than students in the comparison program (p=0.045), as well as on the Unconditional Permission to Eat subscale (p=0.02). There were no significant effects of sex on any of the analyses.

Research limitations/implications

Because of the relatively small sample size and short duration of the program, the results should be generalized with caution.

Practical implications

The results suggest that IE instruction may encourage the development of healthy eating attitudes in high school students, and health teachers may wish to consider including IE instruction in the health curriculum.

Originality/value

This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of an IE program in a K-12 population, with instruction provided in the context of the school. The results are promising and suggest that this may be a fruitful area for future research in nutrition education.

Keywords

Citation

Healy, N., Joram, E., Matvienko, O., Woolf, S. and Knesting, K. (2015), "Impact of an intuitive eating education program on high school students’ eating attitudes", Health Education, Vol. 115 No. 2, pp. 214-228. https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-03-2014-0043

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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