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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Schools, nutrition, and education

by Kathryn Johnson

Schools have changed. In the past few decades, we can list the changes that have occurred. Some are good changes, but others are not. Walk around any school and you will notice large numbers of overweight students. Stand in a lunchroom and you will be amazed at what students eat for lunch. At break time, stand beside a vending machine and watch how many students reach for pop, chips, candies, or chocolate bars to satisfy their hunger. Junk food consumption is on the rise. However, will getting rid of the vending machines solve the problem? Will taking the junk food out of the schools make students eat healthier foods, and live healthier lives?

In November of 2005, the government of British Columbia issued two new documents that intend to improve the environment of British Columbia’s students. The School Food Sales and Policies Provincial Report identifies the foods and beverages sold at our schools and reviews the nutrition policies of the school boards. The Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in British Columbia Schools provides criteria and nutritional information regarding the implementation of healthier choices for students that use school vending machines, cafeterias, and school stores. Both reports provide nutritional information and are part of the government’s growing commitment to health and education. However, are they enough?

By taking the junk food and the least nutritious foods out of our schools, we are helping our students to eat wiser but what happens when they leave the school and go home? Students have many different sources directing them to eat junk food. The media advertises junk food, students and families often lead fast-paced lives that require ready-to-eat foods, parents provide students with the resources to buy the food, and our cupboards at home often contain foods that are less nutritious. How does our removing these same foods from our schools help students to learn to make wise decisions or good food choices? To help our students make the right choices we as instructors have to add nutritional education to our curriculum. At present, a few areas across the curriculum deal with nutrition: CAPP or Planning 10, Science 9, and foods classes, but the curriculum is large and time is limited, and often a teacher has only a week or two to spend on this important subject. More time needs to be spent educating students properly. This is an important issue. Obesity in school-age students is on the rise, and so are the related health issues—Type II Diabetes, heart disease, etc. More needs to be done, and it can be accomplished with proper nutritional education.

The government can ban the sale of junk food in schools but the government cannot stop all sales of junk food. Therefore, it is up to teachers across the province to educate students on how to make good food choices. When students acquire knowledge and the training to use this knowledge they will begin to make the right choices, which will lead to healthier students.

Education is the key. By spending the time on educating the students to eat properly and by giving them the skills to make educated decisions we will help them to live healthier lives in and out of school. The resources are there for the classroom teacher and the students. There are web sites with lessons on nutrition and wellness instruction, the government has information, and copies of the Canada Food Guide are obtainable from local health units. Make the lessons fun and exciting with posters, pamphlets, video commercials, essays, and games that are easy to incorporate into teaching a unit on nutrition. Involve your students in a project to make the whole school aware of good nutrition. Have your class sell apples, make nutritious snacks in class, challenge your class to come up with new and nutritious snacks, and make them.

Instead of taking student choices away, let’s educate them to make the right choices. When the sale of junk food drops, the vending machine companies will replace the items with what the consumer wants. Education is a strong and powerful tool. Giving the students the information they need to make good choices will last them their lifetime.

The two government studies: School Food Sales and Policies Provincial Reports and Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in B.C. can be viewed at www.bced.gov.bc.ca/health/.

Kathryn Johnson teaches at Merritt Secondary School, Merritt.

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