Improving nutrition knowledge and weight based attitudes amongst pre-service health educators at University through an intervention embedded into an undergraduate health and wellbeing elective.

Year: 2019

Author: Werkhoven, Thea

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Health and obesity related knowledge possessed by health professionals during higher education is known to influence their professional practice and treatment of individuals under their care. This includes pre-service dietitians, doctors, school educators and allied health professionals whose roles involve health and nutrition education on a daily basis.

Amongst this group of professionals, nutrition knowledge has been shown to be lower than professional practice requires and weight related attitudes are negatively skewed towards individuals are at a higher 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. Without appropriate levels of knowledge or skewed attitudes, the professional practice and accuracy of health education provided risks being affected.

Whilst previous research has measured and treated nutrition knowledge and weight based attitudes amongst pre-service health educators, an intervention targeting both factors simultaneously had not been completed. The study presented addressed this gap through the design and implementation of a higher education based intervention that aimed to increase nutrition knowledge and decrease negative weight based opinions.

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), the degree of weight bias decreased by 9 points (p < .05) and degree of fat stereotyping decreased by 33% (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.