Research Scientists in Hattiesburg Influence School Meal Programs Nationwide

August 08, 2016

Dr. Keith Rushing, research scientist at the Institute of Child Nutrition, Applied Research Division (ICN, ARD), a research center of The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Health, evaluated the effectiveness of the pilot Team Up for School Nutrition Success workshop.


The Team Up initiative, developed by Dr. Marjuyua Lartey-Rowser of the ICN, ARD, provides school nutrition directors tailored assistance and peer-to-peer mentoring to successfully meet the standards of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.


School nutrition directors manage and implement meal programs in school districts nationwide. The updated healthy meal requirements created challenges for some schools offering the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.


In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered with ICN, ARD to pilot the Team Up for School Nutrition Success workshop in the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Southeast Region. Following the Team Up workshop, the ICN, ARD conducted 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month follow-up evaluations.


Rushing, a registered dietitian, coordinated the follow-up study and collaborated with Dr. Karen Weber Cullen, professor of Pediatrics-Nutrition with the Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine. He presented the findings at the School Nutrition Association annual national conference in San Antonio, Texas, and won the poster presentation Research Award. They found many school nutrition directors achieved some of the outcomes the goals set during the workshop. Time and finances remained significant barriers to implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.


“Overall, the school nutrition professionals had a very positive experience with the workshop and wanted it to be made available to all school nutrition professionals,” said Rushing. “We passed along our findings to the ICN and USDA as they expanded the initiative to the remaining six USDA regions and developed the expansion of the Team Up workshops to the 50 states.”


At the conference, Rushing also presented the results of a study exploring school nutrition professionals’ perceptions and usage of key performance indicators for managing their school nutrition programs. The presentation was recorded to be used in a virtual conference for school nutrition professionals unable to attend the conference.


Dr. Mary Frances Nettles, director of ICN, ARD, and Dr. Kristi Lewi, an ICN, ARD research scientist, also presented research posters and presentations at the conference.

“School nutrition professionals nationwide recognize the value and usefulness of the research, best practices, and resources developed at the ICN’s Applied Research Division. Team Up for School Nutrition Success is an example of our research that is being applied nationwide,” said Nettles.