Teens often find healthy eating easier in theory than in practice, says Louise T Davies – so secondary schools must keep the conversation going
As an educator, ensuring that nutrition and healthy eating are key topics of discussion in schools is vital. Throughout my career, I have worked in schools all over the UK to implement these important discussions in the classroom and in the minds of children. As we see more on the news about the rising obesity epidemic in the UK, as well as globally, it’s vital that schools take responsibility and ensure that children know the benefits of a healthy diet.
Most parents and teachers know there is a disparity between what teenagers want to eat, and what they do eat. What can schools do about it? I believe that showing young people how they can grow their own fresh produce, and conveying the long-term benefits of healthy eating should be integral to a child’s education, and can promote good habits. Teachers can involve students in designing, cooking and changing the school menu to improve the lunchtime environment, and members of the SLT can support this to drive the importance of healthy eating and nutrition throughout the school.
These kinds of initiatives can enable schools to show children how healthy eating fuels both the body and mind, helping concentration and energy levels, which can all contribute to their academic success.
Secondary school aged children naturally develop more independence as they get older, but consequently this can have a negative impact on some of their behaviour, and during this time a drop-off in healthy eating habits can occur.
This is when the wider community can help support schools in delivering the healthy eating message to children of all ages, in order to offset any bad eating habits that teenage children might start to adopt. It’s important that consistent messages appear at home, in school and within the local community, including from businesses. For example, Aldi recently launched a ‘design a bag’ competition, which has helped UK schools to encourage the discussion about healthy eating in younger people, and how to make the right decisions about eating when they get older.
As well as this, earlier in the year Aldi interviewed 1,000 children aged 7–14 in the UK as part of its Get Set to Eat Fresh campaign, to find out about their healthy eating habits. The survey was undertaken in a bid to understand how education can play a part in developing children’s understanding of the value of nutritious food. Findings included that whilst 72% of 7–8-year olds are likely to eat fruit daily, this is only true for 59% of 13–14- year olds.
The drop-off in healthy eating habits between primary and secondary is clear, and the results from the research support the idea that school and education need to help bridge the gap between childhood and adolescence. By doing so, and with additional support from external sources, schools can ensure that healthy eating habits remain consistent in both primary and secondary school aged children.
Knowledge and choices
For many students, healthy eating habits begin at home, with parents establishing the routine of three meals a day. To help this good practice become second nature to students, especially as they get older, schools could consider reinforcing this message in school life.
Whilst we know that many schools are already doing great work in weaving key messages about healthy eating and nutrition into the curriculum, it is my hope that this important conversation remains a key focus. By teaching students about healthy eating and lifestyle choices, we can enable young people to adopt good habits to see them through childhood and adolescence, for a healthy and prosperous future.
Find out more about Get Set to Eat Fresh, and the Design a Bag competition, at getseteatfresh.co.uk/
About the author
Louise T Davies is founder of the Food Teachers Centre (foodteacherscentre. co.uk)
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