Beliefs and attitudes about obesity among teachers and school health care providers working with adolescents

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Mary Story, Tanya Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


The aim of the present study was to assess and describe obesity-related beliefs and attitudes among school staff. Mailed surveys were completed by 115 science, health, home economics, and physical education teachers, school nurses, and school social workers from all junior and senior high schools (n = 17) within a large urban school district (response rate = 66%). Over half of the respondents expressed the belief that obesity was largely caused by individual behaviors, such as overeating, poor eating, and lack of physical activity, yet also believed that biological factors contribute to obesity. Between 20% to 25% perceived obese persons as more emotional, less tidy, less likely to succeed at work, having "different personalities," or having more family problems than nonobese persons. Beliefs and attitudes regarding overweight persons did not differ in accordance with personal weight variables of school staff such as Body Mass Index, body dissatisfaction, and weight loss practices. School staff holding stronger beliefs that obesity is under personal control were somewhat more likely to support school-based activities aimed at decreasing obesity. Since school staff have ongoing contact with many youth, they are in a unique position to help with obesity prevention efforts and to help overweight students feel better about themselves in a thin-oriented society. Staff training can be an important part of school-based programs aimed at the prevention of obesity and its psychosocial consequences. Effective staff training in this area needs to address issues of obesity prevention/treatment and issues related to weight stigmatization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-9
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999


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