Dombrowski awarded $80,282 by the Michigan Department of Education

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Evaluation will study impact of food security on education, health and family stability

Rachael Dombrowski

Rachael Dombrowski, Ph.D., assistant professor of community health education, was awarded $80,282 by the Michigan Department of Education (PRIME: Michigan Health Endowment Fund) to evaluate the Best Food Forward initiative. Led by the Michigan Department of Education in partnership with Gleaners Community Food Bank and the Food Bank Council of Michigan, the initiative is designed to bring low-income families within the state’s school districts to full food security. The purpose of the study is to understand the impact of school-based nutrition-support interventions on academic achievement, health, and behavioral and economic stability outcomes for the students and their families.

The pilot project includes collaborations with five schools from Warren Consolidated Schools and three schools in the Westwood Heights (Flint) School District. Families can obtain free healthy foods from monthly mobile pantries, groceries from community pantries, nutrition education and school meals. Best Food Forward clubs will engage elementary school students in cooking and fitness activities as well as a project. Middle and high school students will participate in a service club focused on a healthy food project. Lessons learned will help investigators generate a scalable, replicable model for other Michigan school districts.

The Wayne State University Center for Health and Community Impact — which is housed in the College of Education — is committed to supporting the Best Food Forward program. Researchers from the center are evaluating program effectiveness and its impact on long- and short-term outcomes, including healthy eating knowledge, attitudes, motivations and behaviors, academic achievement, academic disciplinary behaviors, mental health, physical health, and economic mobility within families. Investigators are currently completing baseline assessments with 200 families — 100 from each school district.

According to Dombrowski, several studies suggest a link between food insecurity and student outcomes and behavior, as well as overall health. Multiple nutrition support interventions that meet basic needs could result in higher degrees of emotional intelligence, impulse control, academic success, positive physical and mental health outcomes, and reduction of disciplinary actions among low-income youth and families. These findings can assist other school districts in improving behavioral, health and academic outcomes among their low-income student populations, as reports of school-based nutrition interventions are limited within the literature.

Learn more about Best Food Forward at gcfb.org/bestfoodforward.