case study

Network for a Healthy California

We conducted a large-scale randomized evaluation of a nutrition and physical activity education intervention for public school students

Client: Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)

The Issue

Healthy eating and physical activity are essential to preventing and addressing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The LAUSD implemented a USDA-funded education intervention to improve these outcomes, which included over 300 schools, 8,000 teachers, and 250,000 students each year.

The Outcomes

We served as program evaluator for the Network for a Healthy California for three years.

Our evaluation included a matched sample of over 1,000 students annually, focus groups with parents, and an online survey of over 1,000 LAUSD teachers and staff.

Improving Student Health with Better Nutrition and Increased Physical Activity

The Network for a Healthy California—Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD Network) was established in 2001 with the goal of increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables and daily physical activity among children in LAUSD communities. The LAUSD Network was funded by an award from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was administered by the California Department of Public Health.

The LAUSD Network used existing human resources and school infrastructure to promote nutritious eating habits and regular physical activity in classrooms, schools, and surrounding communities. The program was designed to enable LAUSD Network nutrition and physical education and resources to be seamlessly incorporated by teachers into multiple subjects, such as math, science, art, health, and language arts. This approach was sensitive to the increased time and budget constraints on teachers, and avoided overburdening teachers and schools that already had strict curriculum mandates.

Each year, this vast program included the participation of nearly 300 LAUSD schools, over 8,000 teachers, and nearly 250,000 students.

Program Evaluation

Sentient Research coordinated and conducted the evaluation of this program for three consecutive years. Utilizing a quasi-experimental design with pre- and post-intervention measures, we collected data from a matched sample of over 1,000 students in intervention and control schools annually. Twelve schools were randomly selected to receive the survey each fall and spring in over 40 classrooms. Outcomes, including fruit and vegetable consumption, consumption of water and sugary drinks, and physical activity, were reported annually to the USDA and to LAUSD Network staff, with detailed recommendations for improvements to the program.

In addition, Sentient Research conducted a mixed-methods online survey of over 1,000 participating teachers, principals, and school nurses each year to provide a report with recommendations as part of our plan for continual program improvement. We conducted focus groups with LAUSD parent center coordinators to find new ways to increase healthy eating and physical activity among students and their families. We also helped LAUSD Network staff create a more community-focused program, including forming partnerships with outside organizations and local businesses to increase the reach of the program outside of the classroom.