Capacity building for nutrition education
Nutrition Education in Chile
Title: Nutrition Education in Primary Schools
(Original title: Educación en nutrición en las escuelas de educación primaria)
Duration: 2001 - 2003
Responsible Ministries/institutions/partnerships, including UN: Junta Nacional de Auxilio Escolar y Becas (JUNAEB) – the national administration responsible for providing school feeding, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education
The promotion of healthy eating and lifestyles is a priority in Chile’s health and nutrition policy. There has been a rise in levels of overweight and obesity during the last 25 years, which has been attributed to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a change in eating habits, especially increased consumption of foods rich in fat, sugar and salt and a reduction in vegetables and fruits and other fibre-rich foods.
Healthy eating is essential for children’s proper growth and development and children’s eating habits are formed early in life. This project aimed to orient children, teachers and parents on the importance of healthy eating through introducing nutrition education in Chilean primary schools. Because the Ministry of Education does not allow the incorporation of new programmes into the curriculum, the educational strategy was based on the development of a textbook, a teacher’s guide, five practical guides for students from 3rd to 8th grade and a CD ROM.
The objectives were to:
- promote the integration of nutrition education into the teaching programme for 3rd and 8th grade students, focusing on local food habits and priority nutrition issues and problems to be addressed;
- design and validate appropriate learning materials for primary school teachers and children;
- develop a training programme for teachers, to be replicated in the whole country.
The project was developed in ten public schools located in low-income neighbourhoods from three different regions representing the geographic variability of the country (North, Centre and South. In each region, schools with a minimum of 30 students per grade from both rural and urban settings were selected.
Critical problem identified and addressed by the project:
- nutrition education has not been incorporated systematically into the teaching programme of Chilean primary schools
- teachers are not trained in nutrition and they lack nutrition knowledge
- there is a lack of nutrition education materials for teachers and students
Main activities completed:
- a baseline study carried out in schools, covering 1700 children from 8 to 13 years of age to assess children’s nutritional status, daily food consumption and physical activity habits, nutrition knowledge and attitudes, as well as teachers’ knowledge and training needs
- a nutrition education strategy was defined oriented towards modifying the behaviours of primary school children, and eventually that of their families;
- a set of learning materials designed and validated, including a textbook, a teacher’s guide, five practical guides for students from 3rd to 8th grade and a CD ROM. The learning materials are presented in five modules covering the following topics: healthy eating, nutritional requirements, nutrition and health, safe and healthy foods and household food security;
- 45 primary school teachers trained in the use of the materials
- the education intervention lasted 5 months, during which the educational materials were validated; the materials were subsequently finalised, printed and produced on CD ROM (1000 copies).
- an evaluation to assess changes in children’s nutrition knowledge, attitudes and food consumption;
- a final evaluation workshop to evaluate the project and derive lessons for broader policy and practice.
- the objectives of the project – to promote the incorporation of nutrition education into the teaching programme through the design and validation of an educational strategy and materials for teachers and school children - were fully achieved
- the final evaluation found a significant increase in the nutrition knowledge of children in the intervention group; by contrast, no differences were observed among the control group;
- the comparison of food consumption before and after the intervention showed a significant increase in the consumption of dairy products among the younger groups of the intervention schools; no increase was noted in the control group;
- intake of fruits and vegetables only increased significantly in 10-11 year old girls of the intervention group;
- the consumption of bread declined significantly among girls in the intervention group;
- intake of snacks increased in both groups, but it was significantly higher in the control group;
- soft drinks increased significantly in 8 to 9 year old children from both intervention and control groups.
The increase in the consumption of snacks in both groups can be explained by the fact that snack foods are very inexpensive and sold at kiosks within and immediately outside schools. The study found that 73% of children from low-income families take money to school, which is largely spent on snacks. The evaluation concluded that nutrition education will only produce significant changes in food habits if accompanied by school policies that regulate the kinds of foods that can be sold and eaten inside schools. In addition, marketing and advertising of foods to children should be required to promote healthful foods.
- Based on this project’s success, the Chilean Ministry of Education charged JUNAEB with the incorporation of nutrition education into the primary school curriculum in Chile. JUNAEB initiated a new pilot project with 47 schools from 10 regions in 2003.
- During 2004, the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile (INTA), carried out 4 training courses for 122 teachers from 10 regions.
- Every public school in Chile received a copy of the CD ROM.
- FAO has distributed CD ROMs and printed materials to all other countries in Latin America, some of which have already submitted requests for similar projects to be implemented in their respective schools systems (viz. Argentina, Honduras, El Salvador, Paraguay).
- The educational materials are widely used by public schools in Chile by teachers trained by INTA.
- Teachers found the nutrition education materials to be user friendly, effective and highly motivational; they can be used as part of the general primary school curriculum.
- The nutrition training programme for teachers was successful and can easily be replicated throughout the entire country.
- Teachers highlighted the usefulness of the materials for their own training, especially their capacity to motivate the participation of children which is crucial in the learning process.
- The project outcomes have provided a solid basis for carrying out systematic nutrition education interventions in primary education, validating a methodology, instruments, and educational materials as well as a teacher’s training programme that is applicable at national level.
- The nutrition education strategy is a significant contribution towards promoting lifelong healthy eating habits and, if accompanied by changes in the food environment, can also help diminish the prevalence of overweight and obesity among Chilean schoolchildren.
- In order to ensure nationwide implementation of nutrition education on a sustainable basis, nutrition education needs to gain official recognition through integration into the official primary school curriculum.
- The Chilean nutrition education materials - in spite of their widespread use in public schools - have not yet been officially adopted by the Ministry of Education.