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J Sch Health. 2004 Apr;74(4):119-24.

Physical activity, dietary practices, and other health behaviors of at-risk youth attending alternative high schools.

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  • 1School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, 6-101 Weaver Densford Hall, 308 Harvard St., SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


This study assessed the interest of alternative high school staff in intervention research on students' eating and physical activity habits and the feasibility of conducting such research in alternative school settings. A two-phase descriptive design incorporated both quantitative and qualitative methods. In fall/winter 2001-2002, alternative high school administrators in Minnesota were surveyed (response rate = 83%; n = 130/157). During summer 2002, one-on-one, semistructured interviews were conducted with key school personnel (n = 15) from urban and suburban schools. Findings indicated few schools had been invited to participate in research on nutrition (11%) and physical activity (7%). However, more than 80% of administrators reported interest in their students participating in such research. Most schools offered health and PE classes and had access to indoor gym facilities and outdoor play areas. While most schools offered a school lunch program, participation was low, cold lunches were common, and food often was unappealing. Beverage and snack vending machines were common. Overall, the physical environment of most alternative schools did not support physical activity and healthy eating as normative behavior. Interest in interventions on physical inactivity, unhealthy dietary practices, and other priority health-risk behavior common in students attending alternative schools was high among teachers and administrators. Results suggest research in alternative high schools is feasible and successful implementation and evaluation of programs possible.

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