Meeting the obesity challenge

Written by: Kelly Rose | Published:
Photo: iStock

A recent SecEd article offering resources to help tackle obesity and educate pupils about healthy diet and lifestyle choices inspired school practitioner Kelly Rose

I recently read an interesting article by Karen Sullivan, who discussed a topic extremely close to my heart (Obesity: Rising to the challenge, SecEd 420, July 2, 2015).

She was able to bring attention to the obesity crisis we face and the role that schools have to play. I agree with so many of her points within the article (see below for link) including many of the practical strategies.

However, there is much to be tackled before all of these practical strategies can be utilised to their full potential. As a food teacher and head of health education within a school, I am fully immersed in those practical strategies and much more.

Currently food teachers are already using many of those educational activities outlined in Karen’s article – for example energy balance, healthy snack swaps, group projects etc.

There are so many resources and these already form an essential part of the food and nutrition programme in my school. From networking with other food teachers and being part of the School Food Champions programme (see further information) there is evidence that many of these practical ideas are being taught and facilitated in many if not all secondary schools in the UK.

There are also funded organisations, such as Morelife, that come into schools and deliver sessions focused on how calories work and the length of time it takes to work off a chocolate bar verses an apple, and how the extra weight can add up over time.

Having said this, nutrition education in my opinion is certainly far from perfect. It is essential that more time and emphasis should be given to nutrition, this could be supported by having a dedicated person in every school or local authority working to build awareness throughout schools in the form of campaigns, competitions and cross-curricular activities.

Also, educating trainee food teachers separately to design and technology teachers could be effective. I speak from personal experience – as much as I enjoyed my PGCE year, we spent much more time on building a wooden stool and learning about wood and metal than nutrition. Furthermore, I have not taught design and technology since my placement year.

I am so glad that Karen’s article points out the obesity crisis and the statistical importance for our children’s health. There is no doubt we need to change to see the obesity levels start to drop.

Karen discusses some excellent strategies including planning healthier menus and focusing on the nutritional needs of teenagers. However, as a teacher I know there are so many things that need to change on a national and local authority level as well as these whole-school approaches, therefore this might not be an effective strategy until these underlying issues are addressed.

I have to admit that I was horrified to read about the “fabulous scale” which measures calories – one of the resources quoted in Karen’s piece. As a secondary food and nutrition teacher and a registered nutritionist it saddens me to see the obsession on numbers and there are links with low self-esteem and eating disorders. We certainly do not need to start measuring all of our food in order to encourage our children to make healthy choices and introducing lifestyle habits.

I say let’s talk to our children (and their parents) about a love of healthy food and cooking from scratch, with more food lessons where they can try new foods and learn about their nutritional and antioxidant properties and the ways they can make us feel good.

Also we must remember the level of advertising our children are bombarded with as companies try to exploit “pester-power”. This is an important discussion to have. There is so much confusion in our society about what is healthy. At our school, we aim to help our students become “savvy consumers” who understand the marketing and are able to analyse health messages in order to make healthy choices. What we need:

More food lessons – the strategies Karen outlines are being used by many schools. Quite often, the issue is the time and sometimes training.

  • A dedicated head of health and wellbeing in all secondary schools – this person would increase awareness of nutrition through whole-school approaches, such as campaigns, cross-curricular activities and improving school food choice.
  • We are living in a society where cancer and heart disease are increasing at rapid rates, let’s teach our children that this can be different for them if they choose wisely.
  • Kelly Rose is head of health education at Macmillan Academy in Middlesbrough.

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