Date of Award
Doctor of Education (EdD)
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
The weight-normative approach posits that weight is a primary determinant of health, that it is an individual-level problem to be managed and that weight loss improves health outcomes. This paradigm contributes to several negative outcomes including weight cycling, weight bias and stigma, the development of disordered eating behaviors, and weight-based bullying. Not only is weight-based bullying the most common form of bullying worldwide, but rates of eating disorders have increased significantly in youth in the United States and globally in the past few years. Weight-inclusive approaches, on the other hand, suggest that anyone can be healthy at any size and that it is health behaviors, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet, that are the underlying contributors to health and longevity, rather than weight. Weight-inclusive approaches have demonstrated success in improving body acceptance, decreasing dieting behaviors and anti-fat attitudes, improving overall health outcomes, and may decrease weight-based bullying. Teaching about nutrition is a crucial component of high school health education, with the potential to shape student's perceptions about nutrition, weight, and bodies and improve health outcomes. However, as a primary organizational context for health promotion activities, schools in the US may be inadvertently contributing to negative outcomes through an emphasis on programming focused on weight as a determinant of health as opposed to health behaviors like nutrition and physical activity.
This dissertation, rooted in critical obesity studies and a social-ecological framework, presents two papers. Through interviews with eight high school health teachers and ten key stakeholders, an exploratory case study methodology allowed for a comprehensive understanding of nutrition education in Vermont high schools. Documents, including policies, available curriculum, and materials such as agency webpages and sources consulted by teachers, provided additional data. The first paper explores whether high school nutrition in Vermont is being taught through a lens that is consistent with the principles of weight-normativity or weight-inclusivity as well as teacher-perceived factors that influence curricular decision-making. The second paper investigates the perspectives of key stakeholders at multiple ecological levels that have high interest in and the potential to influence nutrition education in Vermont. Little is currently known about the paradigm through which nutrition is taught in high schools in Vermont, or the factors that influence curricular content or implementation, and this work serves to fill this gap.
Findings from this study indicate that weight-normative activities and values dominate nutrition curriculum in Vermont high schools. Multiple levels, including within-school peers and state policies, exert influence on teacher curricular decisions. Guidance around nutrition curriculum content is not only lacking but necessary, and state-level policy is crucial to the valuing and implementation of consistent curricula. Findings from this study confirm a need for the development and implementation of a weight-inclusive nutrition curriculum for high schools, professional development for health teachers, and policy-level interventions, as potential strategies to improve health outcomes, prevent the adoption of disordered eating behaviors, and decrease weight-based bullying.
Number of Pages
Hinchey, Deborah, "High School Nutrition Education in Vermont: An Exploratory Case Study" (2024). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1799.
Available for download on Monday, December 08, 2025