Nutrition Education in Schools Experiences and Challenges
Schools are a valuable vehicle for nutrition education. They offer a ready-made learning environment, food service and opportunities for engagement with students, teachers and parents.
However, nutrition education must go beyond just lessons. It should also include other school activities, such as cooking demonstrations and food tastings. This will increase the impact of nutrition education.
Nutrition education should be progressively part of the school curriculum for all age groups. However, this requires significant efforts from overloaded teachers who already have to deal with multiple issues. Therefore, innovative and tailored solutions are needed.
Nutrition lessons need to be engaging, involving students in food-related activities and fostering positive attitudes towards eating. They should also address the socio-cultural aspects of food and eating. Furthermore, it is essential that the lessons are interactive and take into account the learning styles of the students.
Previous research has shown that nutrition education that involves the family can increase its effectiveness. Thus, policies that encourage students’ nutrition education from their guardians should include communication with families and should also focus on double-income households.
Moreover, a societal benefit is possible, since medical doctors who have healthy lifestyle and dietary habits may be more likely to provide nutrition care to their future patients. However, more attention should be paid to the quality of nutrition education programmes and their sustainability.
Nutrition education attempts to change habits that contribute to poor health. Such interventions normally involve a multidisciplinary team with field staff (education, agriculture, health and communication professionals). In order to be effective, these interventions should be based on a well-planned communication strategy using various media channels and include training for field staff.
Educators must also help teachers understand how to integrate nutrition education into their classroom instruction. Resources such as online interactives, student workbooks and videos can be useful tools for implementing nutrition education.
Previous studies have shown that successful school nutrition education programmes are those which have a clear behavioural focus and use multiple channels of communication, including those targeting family members. They should also include self-assessment and behavioural change strategies. In addition, school meals represent a valuable opportunity for nutrition education and should be adequately prepared, nutritious and affordable (Fulkerson et al, 2002). Nutrition education needs to be integrated into the whole curriculum, including social sciences, math, science and English.
Nutrition education is needed to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy food choices. Nutrition curricula should include science-based information that helps children understand where foods come from and how they work, in addition to the skills necessary for identifying nutrients in their food choices and reading a nutritional facts label.
Children need to feel empowered about the choices they make and their connection to their own health. Lessons on the mind-body connection help develop self-efficacy and support positive behaviour changes that support a healthy diet and lifestyle.
School-based nutrition education should be a structural intervention that includes changes to the school food environment as well as efforts to increase parental or guardian support1, 4. A study reporting on an intensive, comprehensive nutrition program that included a lecture at school and homework (with quizzes for both children and their guardians) reported that both children’s and their guardians’ nutrition knowledge increased significantly.
The study’s results showed that nutrition education with or without behavior skills training improves children’s knowledge of basic nutritional facts, but has less clear impact on healthy eating attitudes and behaviors. The improvement in knowledge levels was more pronounced for girls than boys, and the differences were influenced by age.
In addition, it was found that the guardians’ nutrition knowledge level is significantly associated with the increase in their children’s knowledge. This shows the importance of involvement of guardians in nutrition education and communication between them.
In the present study, 27 teachers who were teaching fourth-grade and fifth-grade students in Famagusta provided them with nutrition education during science lessons. They were given a pretest consisting of questions regarding nutritional facts and then taught for three to four weeks. They were also asked to do homework for their students in order to minimize their teaching time at school. This homework was meant to allow the students to communicate nutrition information with their guardians.