Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Tidwell, Diane

Committee Member

Hunt, Barry

Committee Member

Briley, Chiquita

Committee Member

Ragsdale, Kathleen

Committee Member

Lee, Michelle

Date of Degree


Document Type

Graduate Thesis - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion


Childhood obesity is a public health concern, impacting American children as early as the preschool years. Children from rural, low-income, and minority families experience unique disparities in obesity and health problems, which is especially problematic in Mississippi where a large part of the state is considered rural and economically disadvantaged. Development of healthy nutrition behaviors in early childhood plays a pivotal role in sustaining life-long healthy behaviors and preventing childhood and future obesity. The Snack Pack Project is a 19-week preschool-based nutrition education program designed to promote recognition and selection of healthful foods and encourage development of healthy nutrition behaviors among preschool-aged children. Program objectives are for preschool children to identify healthy foods, food groups, and farm-to-table concepts, participate in weekly educational sessions, and assist in snack preparation. Preschoolers participate in educational sessions and snack preparation activities led by their Head Start teachers and complete pre- and postevaluations. The Snack Pack Project was implemented in two Head Start centers with a total of 300 preschoolers, 191 of which completed the pre- and post-evaluations. Surveys were also completed by parents, which included demographics, description of preschoolers’ food frequency, and an indication of household food security status. The McNemar 2 x 2 design chi-square test for matched-pairs demonstrated that the 3-year-old and the 4- and 5-year-old groups’ knowledge of nutrition variables covered by the Snack Pack Project improved (p < .05). Parent surveys indicated that only 8.9% of preschoolers consumed vegetables daily and 25.3% consumed fruit daily. Results from the food security survey indicated that food insecurity exists; 17.7% reported they relied on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed their child due to a shortage of money, 16.0% of parents “could not afford balanced meals,” but none reported that their “child did not eat for a whole day.” Preschools are in a unique position to enhance nutrition knowledge and influence the development of healthy behaviors. The Snack Pack Project is feasible to implement in Head Start Centers and complements nutrition education the children will receive in primary school and beyond.