Imagine you are undertaking a needs assessment to develop a school-based nutrition program for elementary school-age children in a low income, urban, Latino neighborhood. You have reviewed existing data about your population, and you know that childhood diabetes and obesity rates in the zip code are higher than state and national averages. You also learn that 95% of children in the zip code are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. National data on energy and nutrient intakes for this age group are available from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). However, you still want to gain a more intimate understanding of your audience’s daily food choices and the factors that affect them. To do so, you decide it would be best to start by observing the neighborhood. You ask an administrator at a local school if you can sit in the cafeteria to observe lunchtime. You also take some walks in the neighborhood, paying close attention to food outlets near schools. You observe what children are buying and eating on their way to and from school. In this process, you notice that many children are stopping at corner stores (bodegas) on the way to school to buy processed snack foods and sugary drinks. Furthermore, you notice that those children share their food in the school cafeteria with their friends. You also notice that younger children are more likely to eat school lunches, and older children are more likely to bring food from home or from corner stores. You notice that the most common lunch brought from home is a bag of chips and a sugary drink. On the positive side, you see the school lunch program offers a salad bar with fresh fruits and vegetables, and a cafeteria worker is encouraging the children to take them. At the end of the school day, you also notice vendors selling churros to children as they are leaving school. This process of observation helps you begin to develop an understanding of what children are eating. Now, you need to work to understand a bit more about why they are eating what they are eating. You decide to develop a focus group guide to use with upper elementary school children to explore their food purchasing habits in the school vicinity. Make a list of questions you might use to learn about the children’s current behavior and what motivates it, and to explore potential avenues for intervention. You may refer to the section on focus groups on page 123 to help you plan the questions. After you are finished developing a list of questions, take a look at Figure 4-4 on page 124 to see a set of focus group questions used by researchers to explore corner-store purchases among low-income, urban youth.
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