To explore the potential of theater as part of an undergraduate community nutrition course in shaping students’ attitudes, beliefs, and empathy toward individuals experiencing food insecurity and living in poverty.
Use of Theory or Research
The benefits of arts-based curricula has been well-documented in other health and social service disciplines. Theater, poetry, and art can broaden students’ understanding of complex social problems, foster engagement, and promote empathy. These skills and capabilities are important for nutrition educators. However, few studies have investigated the potential role of arts-based education in nutrition/dietetics coursework, and to our knowledge, no studies have been published to-date on the use of theater.
Students (n = 11) enrolled in an undergraduate community nutrition course at a small university in New England. All were majoring in either nutrition or public health.
Students attended a theatrical performance that addressed everyday experiences of families living in poverty and confronted a wide range of social issues connected to food insecurity. After the performance, students were given a reflection paper assignment.
The evaluation was a mixed methods design with both qualitative and quantitative components. Reflection papers were analyzed for themes. Perceptions on individuals in poverty (pre/post) was assessed by the validated Undergraduate Perceptions of Poverty Tracking Survey (UPPTS) and analyzed using paired t-tests.
After attending the performance, perceptions on those living in poverty improved. Common themes discussed in reflection papers revealed greater awareness of stressors and barriers to accessing resources. Lower mean survey score on Likert-scale of 1-5 indicated greater overall empathy, and likelihood of viewing the underlying causes of poverty related to lack of resources and opportunity (2.2 + 0.4 vs 1.9 + 0.4), P < .05.
Theater can provide nutrition students with new insights and perspectives that can potentially broaden their understanding of complex social and environmental factors that influence nutrition-related behaviors.