Changes in the teaching of food in schools over the past twenty five years have had a detrimental effect on the nations eating habits. Most children were only taught the basics of cooking and many were not taught to cook at all. With most families having both parents working, time for cooking has become very limited and has led to a huge increase in ready prepared and take away food. These ‘ready to go’ foods all have a place in the nation’s diet, but should not replace home cooked food served with fresh vegetables on a daily basis, as ready prepared food often contain too many preservatives, fat and sugar. Thereby depriving children of vital nutrients essential for a healthy diet.
The result of these changes in eating habits has been an enormous rise in childhood obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of around one million school children in England every year, thus providing a detailed picture of the prevalence of child obesity. The latest figures, for 2013/14, show that 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.4% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.5% were obese and another 13.1% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese.
Data are also available from the Health Survey for England (HSE), which includes a smaller sample of children than the NCMP but covers a wider age range. Results from 2012 show that around 28% of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese.
Children from deprived areas in England are significantly more likely to be obese, according to the figures. The latest statistics for children aged 10 to 11 show that 24.7% from low-income areas are obese, compared to 13.1% in the least deprived locations. There is a doubling of the overall obesity rate from youngsters aged four to five (9.5%) to the end of primary school (19.1%).The data were collected during the 2013/14 school year and have been released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Eustace de Sousa, national lead for children, young people and families at Public Health England (PHE), described the figures – which are for children in state schools – as “deeply concerning”. He said: “We know that over a third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, which makes them much more likely to be overweight or obese as adults and considerably increases their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems such as cancer and heart disease”. Residents in Dorset are becoming too fat as 60% of people are now classified as overweight. A major research project undertaken by Public Health England stated that the indirect cost of obesity could be as much as £27 billion by this year.
Increase in Diabetes
About 1/3rd of people suffering from diabetes are found to be obese, and the figures for Dorset are that in 2014 8.8% of people aged 16 years or older were found to be suffering from diabetes and this is expected to rise to 9.4% by 2020.
Positive Changes in the school’s curriculum
The Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust became a registered charity 2007, but has been working with local schools for much longer. We have supported the campaigns run by high profile chefs and food organisations and are delighted to see that changes to the national curriculum mean that the teaching of food has been made compulsory for all children up to year 9 (aged 14), including those in primary schools.
Changes to the GCSE curriculum are due to take place in secondary schools by September 2016 when all existing food courses will be dropped and be replaced by cookery and nutrition. As part of their work with food, pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.
In the new curriculum, pupils should be taught to:
Key Stage 3
- understand and apply the principles of nutrition and health
- cook a repertoire of predominantly savoury dishes so that they are able to feed themselves and others a healthy and varied diet
- become competent in a range of cooking techniques [for example, selecting and preparing ingredients; using utensils and electrical equipment; applying heat in different ways; using awareness of taste, texture and smell to decide how to season dishes and combine ingredients; adapting and using their own recipes]
- understand the source, seasonality and characteristics of a broad range of ingredients.
Please note that the area marked in brackets is not mandatory, but this is where the work of our Trust is so valuable.
We are also pleased to support the Change4Life campaign which endeavours to encourage children to change salty and sweet snacks for healthier options and inform families of healthy meal recipes and ideas.
When visiting schools we have been relieved to see the increase in free school meals for children up to and including Key Stage 1, as research shows that it is often the only nutritious meal served that day.