Decreasing weight bias and increasing nutrition knowledge through a higher education intervention

Year: 2018

Author: Werkhoven, Thea

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

At the pre-service stage, the knowledge and attitudes possessed by health professionals and health educators are known to influence the professional practice and treatment of individuals under their care. The level of nutrition knowledge and weight related attitudes held by pre-service health professionals are of interest to this paper, especially those relevant to overweight and obesity. Previous research has shown that amongst this group, nutrition knowledge has been found to be outdated or inadequate, putting them at risk of basing practice on inaccurate knowledge.
The attitudes that pre-service health professionals possess have also been shown to be prejudiced towards overweight and obese individuals, where they are negatively compared to individuals of normal weight. Common perceptions of overweight and obese individuals are that they are lazy, unmotivated, have poor hygiene and low intelligence and are responsible for their weight due to a lack of willpower and poor food selection.
Individuals who are exposed to weight prejudice and inaccurate health counselling or education are at risk of practicing unhealthy eating and food-related practices such as fad dieting or extremely restrictive eating patterns.  Amongst youth, the implications are large for mental, social and physical wellbeing as well as academic performance at school. Given that the nutrition knowledge and weight based attitudes are known to be an issue for pre-service health professionals, a study was conducted to test the design and implementation of an intervention which aimed to increase general nutrition knowledge and decrease the degree of weight bias directed at overweight and obese individuals. Spanning 12 weeks, the intervention was conducted through an elective offered to higher education students (n=111) and enrolments included health, non-health and education related degrees. The intervention was based on theoretical frameworks including Health At Every Size and Fitness not Fatness. Baseline and post-test measures of nutrition knowledge and weight bias were conducted to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.
A series of t-tests on baseline and post-intervention scores revealed that nutrition knowledge increased by 8% (p .05). These results indicate that the design and implementation of the intervention were moderately successful. With modifications to suit relevant institutions, the intervention design could be modified for use in similar cohorts to increase nutrition knowledge and decrease weight bias in the higher education setting.