Food as a reward in the classroom: school district policies are associated with practices in US public elementary schools

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1436-1442.
Authors: Turner L, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ.

The use of food as a reward for good student behavior or academic performance is discouraged by many national organizations, yet this practice continues to occur in schools. Our multiyear cross-sectional study examined the use of food as a reward in elementary schools and evaluated the association between district policies and school practices. School data were gathered during the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 school years via mail-back surveys (N=2,069) from respondents at nationally representative samples of US public elementary schools (1,525 unique schools, 544 of which also participated for a second year). During every year, the corresponding district policy for each school was gathered and coded for provisions pertaining to the use of food as a reward. School practices did not change over time and as of the 2009-2010 school year, respondents in 42.1% and 40.7% of schools, respectively, indicated that food was not used as a reward for academic performance or for good student behavior. In multivariate logistic regression analyses controlling for school characteristics and year, having a district policy that prohibited the use of food as a reward was significantly associated with school respondents reporting that food was not used as a reward for academic performance (P<0.05) or for good student behavior (P<0.05). School-level respondents in the West and the Midwest were less likely to report that food was not used as a reward than were respondents in the South and Northeast. As of 2009-2010, only 11.9% of the districts in our study prohibited the use of food as a reward. Strengthening district policies may reduce the use of food rewards in elementary schools.

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