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Assessment of nutritional knowledge of learning disability support workers

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People with Learning Disabilities (LD) are one of the most vulnerable groups in Britain (DOH, 2001). The Disability Rights Commission (2006) found that one in three people with LD are obese compared with one in five of the general population. As the learning disability population move from institutional care into community residences, nutrition is an increasingly important issue. Food is no longer prepared in kitchens by catering staff and clients are more dependent on support workers for the provision of their food. Several studies have examined nutritional education and the impact this has on service users although few have assessed the nutritional knowledge of learning disability support workers. The aim of this study was to assess the nutritional knowledge of learning disability support workers in the community setting. Methods: 

In this cross-sectional survey, managers of seven community homes within a locality of Manchester were approached and agreed for staff to participate in the study. In total 60 questionnaires were distributed. The questionnaire was adapted from a validated assessment tool (Pamenter and Wardle, 1999) with the addition of questions that assessed knowledge of the Eatwell plate, food groups and food labelling. Questionnaires were collected 2 weeks after distribution. All data were coded and analysed using SPSS 16 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Descriptive statistics of incidence and % correct response were used to examine the data. Independent t-tests were used to compare differences between the answers of those who had received previous training and those who had not. Ethical approval was gained from Leeds Metropolitan University research ethics committee. Results: 

The response rate was 42% (n = 25) and of this group 44% (n = 11) had received previous nutrition training. The questionnaire revealed a lack of nutritional knowledge, the most notable of which was knowledge of the Eatwell plate (8% were aware of the plate model and 4% correctly stated all food groups); food portion sizes (36% correctly stated the portion size of fruit, vegetables and dairy foods and 32% the portion size of meat); food labelling (28% correctly stating the saturated fat content regarded as ‘high’). There was no statistical significant difference between the answers of those who had previous training and those who did not. Of respondents, 88% indicated that they would benefit from nutritional training and 48% did not feel confident with their current nutritional knowledge. Discussion: 

Lack of nutritional knowledge of key workers within the care setting is of concern. Service users frequently rely on their support workers for menu planning and food provision. Coronary heart disease is the second most common cause of death in people with LD and lack of knowledge of fat recommendations is an important area of focus for the future. Support workers themselves welcomed further input and the apparent lack of difference in nutritional knowledge between those who have received previous training compared to those without, suggests that this should be ongoing. Conclusions: 

The nutritional knowledge of learning disability support workers in the community setting is poor and nutritional education programmes are now required to develop the nutritional knowledge of staff and evaluate their subsequent impact on clients with learning disability. References: 

Department of Health (2001) Valuing People: a New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century. London. The Stationary Office.

Disability Rights Commission (2006) Equal Treatment: Closing the gap. Available from: <> [Accessed on 9 June 2010].

Pamenter, K. & Wardle, J. (1999) Development of a general nutrition knowledge questionnaire for adults. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 53, 298–308.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: NHS East Lancashire Community Health Services, Department Nutrition and Dietetics, Nelson, UK and 2: Department of Nutrition and Dietetic, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK e-mail:, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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