Study finds school nurses may be crucial to reducing childhood obesity

July 8, 2023

School nurses do much more than bandage scraped knees and take temperatures. A Rutgers study, published in the journal Pediatric Nursing, suggests they also may play a key role in reducing childhood obesity.

Elaine Elliott, a school nurse in Newark, teamed up with Cheryl Holly (EdD, RN, ANEF) and the late Sallie Porter (DNP, PhD, APN, RN-BC, CPNP), professors at Rutgers University School of Nursing, to test a family-centered, school-based intervention using parents and teachers as role models for healthy eating and other behaviors.

“An important reason for the success of this program was the trust nurses have with parents and teachers,” said Elliott, who received her doctor of nursing practice degree from Rutgers in 2019. “I’ve developed a close relationship with the community that only a school nurse can have.”

Parents and teachers from a public preschool in Newark with high rates of obesity were invited to participate in the program. Thirty-seven parents, teachers, and classroom aides representing 37 children ages 3 to 5 took part in the study, which included weekly 45-minute sessions over four weeks.

Modeled on a similar program in Maine called Let’s Go!, the course taught how to encourage children to eat at least five servings of vegetables; engage in, at most, two hours of screen time; do at least one hour of physical activity; and consume zero sugary drinks every day.