Eliminating Food Noise: Using Anthropological Perspectives in an Out-of-the-Box Approach to Changing Schoolchildren’s Eating Choices
This undergraduate thesis will explore existing methods surrounding healthy-lifestyle school based interventions targeting elementary and lower-middle school children. Although some studies have reported school-based nutrition interventions to be successful, reports of positive outcomes have been variable. Using anthropological approaches to thinking about eating and food, this thesis offers a critique of intervention methods and examines how they can be made more effective. In the US, the nutrition components of many school-based inventions place great emphasis on a nutrient-focused view of healthy eating. The present analysis argues that such emphasis creates a decision-making environment overloaded with food noise. Food noise encompasses the idea that discrepancies between foods that are and are not considered “healthy” are trivial, contradictory, and unnecessarily complicate a child’s relationship with food as he attempts to develop eating habits. In suggesting ways to reduce food noise, this thesis will draw upon five main sources of data: i) participatory observation of a collaborative project between the University of Pennsylvania, the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, and the School District of Philadelphia, ii) interviews with teachers and staff at an elementary school, and with an AUNI staff member, iii) observation at community meetings on school wellness, iv) observations of a local organization’s socialized lunch program, and v) observations of a pediatric weight management clinic. Synthesizing these data sources using anthropological perspectives, this thesis will suggest that future school-based interventions should diminish food noise in an environment that enhances exposure, exploration, and experience.