Researchers call for food education curriculum to combat childhood obesity – EducationHQ

Posted: March 12, 2020 at 11:45 pm

Researchers are calling for a whole of school approach to combating worrying levels of childhood obesity, after a study found that food education makes up just 2.6 per cent of the Victorian primary school curriculum.

The Deakin University study recently published in the journal Health Promotion International sought the views of teachers, and health and education stakeholders about the opportunities and barriers for food education in Australian primary schools.

Lead author Dr Penny Love a Senior Lecturer in Deakins Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) said the greater value placed on academic achievement than health was a key barrier to the effective implementation of food and nutrition education.

One in four Australian children are overweight or obese, and schools are a key opportunity for obesity prevention. Good food education is critical in developing ones food literacy and setting up healthy behaviours for life, Love said.

But if youre going to achieve good food literacy it needs to be content embedded across the curriculum rather than an ad-hoc additional program. Its an important life skill.

Love said her study found food and nutrition content was often dealt with ad-hoc with add-ons like life education, kitchen garden, cooking and breakfast programs, typically delivered by an external provider at an additional cost to each school.

If were serious about tackling rising rates of childhood obesity, food education should be integrated across all subjects, she said.

For example, students could calculate the energy density of foods in mathematics, study food cropping patterns in geography, explore food cultures in history, or debate the role of food marketing in English or media studies.

We know that this is possible because its already being done with sustainability and cultural diversity, which are both integrated across the curriculum.

If you can do it for climate change you could do it for food. Just like saving the planet, or celebrating peoples differences, looking after our nutrition is another key skill you need lifelong.

Barriers for food education in Australian primary schools included limited leadership and coordination, a crowded curriculum, and poor availability of teaching resources with explicit links to the curriculum.

There were teachers who expressed the sentiment of who am I to tell people what to eat?

Teachers were hesitant to discuss food and nutrition issues with their class as they viewed it as a personal choice and were wary of appearing judgemental.

They were concerned about parental resistance and some felt they didnt personally model healthy behaviours themselves.

It shows teachers need adequate support and training to deliver this content and role model healthy behaviours.

Integrating food and nutrition into the curriculum ensures consistency of messages across the school, between what is taught in the classroom and what is experienced in the school environment such as non-food rewards for achievement, and healthy canteen choices.

Love said some work was being done in the UK and US on the integration of food education into school teaching, and this showed that when content was embedded across the curriculum it had the most impact.

We also heard in our interviews that there is a willingness from teachers, they feel promoting good health in their students is important. So we need to work out how we can support teachers who are feeling overwhelmed, time-poor or under-equipped, she said.

At the moment were relying on classroom teachers really driving this area independently, and that only happens if they have a strong personal interest.

Without the input of teachers and parents, were in this situation where were increasingly seeing children grow up into adults without basic food knowledge and skills, like how to buy a healthy basket of food, how to incorporate a variety of fresh vegetables into tasty meals, or how much they should be eating.

This lack of food literacy is a big contributor to our populations growing reliance on convenience and ultra-processed food, and we know an excess consumption of these is a big driver of overweight and obesity.

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Researchers call for food education curriculum to combat childhood obesity - EducationHQ

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