Study assessing elementary school teachers’ health outcomes and dietary behaviors published

Bags of Brighter Bites filled with vegetables and fruits.
Teacher holding Brighter Bites bag filled with produce.

By Mackenzie Senn, MPH, PhD Student and Angela Zieba, MPH, PhD Student

Teachers play an essential role spending a substantial part of the day modeling and cultivating healthy eating habits critical to children’s health and behaviors. More than 1.9 million elementary school teachers provide care to over 10 million preschool and elementary school-aged children in the U.S (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). Therefore, the health and well-being of teachers are essential to a child’s learning. However, a recent study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, shows that teachers themselves may be susceptible to poor diet quality, chronic stress, and food insecurity (Sharma et al, 2024).  

The study found that 32 percent of teachers reported being food insecure, indicating a chronic lack of access to enough food in their household. Teachers consumed less than recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, dairy, and calcium but consumed more sugar than daily recommendations.  

Upon measuring study participants’ biometrics, results showed:

  • 13% of the teachers had high blood pressure 
  • 8% were diabetic  
  • 23% were recorded in the pre-diabetes range 
  • Over 50% were obese

Finally, 18% of teachers reported experiencing moderate-to-severe depression while 23% experienced moderate to severe anxiety. All of these rates are much higher than their respective national averages.  

These findings demonstrate the need for wellness interventions targeting teachers. In addition to understanding teachers’ social behavior and health status, the study also shares the design and framework of one such potential solution to improving food security and diet quality for teachers. Nurturing Healthy Teachers is a multi-component intervention developed with two evidence-based programs – Brighter Bites and Create Healthy Futures. Throughout the school year, the program provides consistent bi-weekly access to 20 pounds of a variety of fruits and vegetables, plus nutrition education, and an online, self-paced teachers' wellness program with peer-facilitated groups. The study, conducted over two years, will assess the impact of Nurturing Healthy Teachers on household food security among the participating teachers as the primary outcome; secondary outcomes include assessing the effects on diet quality and physical and mental health outcomes.  

Teachers play an integral role of children’s health and wellbeing. The results of this study will inform the next steps toward future implementation and evaluation of teacher-focused interventions.  

This study was made possible through partnerships with Brighter Bites, a non-profit organization, and Penn State Better Kid Care, which have a national reach for programming. Each of these groups collectively brings the experience and resources to address the needs of teachers warranted from these findings successfully.  


National Center for Education Statistics. (2021, May). COE – Characteristics of Public School Teachers. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/clr/public-school-teachers 

Sharma, S. V., Senn, M., Zieba, A., Tang, M., Chuang, R. J., Byrd-Williams, C., Pomeroy, M., Gaminian, A., Cox, J., French, K., & Ranjit, N. (2024). Design, protocol and baseline data of Nurturing Healthy Teachers, a cluster non-randomized controlled trial to improve the health, well-being, and food security of preschool and elementary school teachers in Houston, Texas. Preventive medicine reports, 40, 102674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2024.102674 

About the authors 

Mackenzie Senn and Angela Zieba are both PhD candidates in the department of Epidemiology. Senn works as a research coordinator and Zieba as a graduate research associate with Sharma on two projects — Nurturing Healthy Teachers and the Financial Coaching Pilot —  which focus on the health and well-being of teachers and parents. 

Senn’s research interests include behavioral epidemiology, with a focus on food insecurity and chronic disease prevention. Zieba specializes in infectious disease surveillance.   

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