Eastern North Carolina Head Start Teachers' personal and professional experiences with healthy eating and physical activity: A qualitative exploration

Virginia C. Stage, Lorelei Jones, Jocelyn Bayles, Archana V. Hegde, Dipti A. Dev, L. Suzanne Goodell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Explore the interrelationship between teachers' personal and professional socio-ecological structures while examining Head Start (HS) teachers' experiences with (1) trying to eat healthy and engage in physical activity (PA) and (2) promote healthy eating and PA in their classrooms. Design: In-depth semi-structured interviews were collected from March through June 2017. Researchers designed the data collection and analysis methods using a phenomenological approach. All interviews were recorded using digital audio and transcribed verbatim. Setting: Seven HS centres in two rural eastern North Carolina counties. Participants: Teachers (n 15) who had recently participated in a healthy eating and physical activity intervention. Participants were 100 % female, an average age of 43 years (sd 9·6) and primarily Black/African American (93·3 %). Results: Eighteen primary themes were identified providing unique insight into individual, social and environmental determinants that may influence teachers' personal health behaviours and professional health promotion practices. Findings indicated that teachers want to improve health behaviours personally (individual/family health) and professionally (children/families served); however, barriers exist at all levels impacting their ability to improve their own health and facilitate positive behaviours among the children/families they serve. Many teachers observed connections between their personal and professional experiences, but not beyond the individual level. Conclusions: Study findings highlight the importance of considering and emphasising the potential relationship between personal and professional determinants of health when working with early childhood teachers. Findings from this study may be useful for informing the development, implementation and evaluation of future health promotion interventions using teachers as implementers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3460-3476
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number11
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Head Start
  • Healthy eating
  • Physical activity
  • Preschool
  • Social ecological theory
  • Teachers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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