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Schools – the beginning of the end of malnutrition

Promoting nutrition through schools can create benefits that extend beyond the classroom


12 Mar 2018

Schools are an ideal setting for teaching basic skills in food, nutrition and health. In many communities, they may be the only place where children acquire these important life skills. Primary schools, in particular, are suitable vehicles for nutrition education. They not only influence children but also target girls, who tend to leave schools earlier. Nutrition lessons can be simple, interesting, colourful and easily learned by demonstration, illustration, example and practical action – approaches which are natural to primary education.

Here are seven ways schools can play a crucial role in tackling malnutrition, improving diets and developing good, life-long healthy eating habits:

1. Schools reach children at an age when their food habits are being formed, when they are open to new ideas and they learn good practices and new skills effortlessly.

2. School gardens are a learning platform to promote better nutrition, develop life skills and increase environmental awareness. Growing and preparing garden food at school, combined with nutrition education, increases children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables.

3. Schools can establish and enforce school policies and practices – for example rules about handwashing – that can improve health and nutrition. 

4. Healthy meals and snacks in schools improves children’s health and nutritional well-being, enabling them to grow well and learn well. When combined with nutrition education, school food can directly improve student’s health and nutrition while helping them develop good eating habits.

5. Qualified personnel can teach and guide children, linking food and nutrition education with other subjects (e.g. science) and fun activities. Learning activities can involve games, role-plays, experiments, talks, presentations etc. 

6. By involving families in their children’s nutrition education and by spurring community participation, e.g. via school garden projects or school canteens, there may be a ripple effect, benefitting a wide range of people. 

7. Schools feeding programmes can provide cost-effective nutrition interventions, as well as opportunities to practice healthy eating habits and food safety. In food insecure communities, these programmes help fight malnutrition and help keep children in school. They can also improve incomes and food security of local communities when locally produced foods are supplied to the school.

Good nutrition education helps children to become “nutritionally literate”. They are informed about the value of nutritious foods, how it can be prepared and make it appetizing! 

Today 815 million people suffer from hunger, meaning they regularly are unable to consume the minimum level of food energy needed to maintain an active lifestyle. But malnutrition is more than caloric hunger and thinness; it includes micronutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity.  Poor diets are linked to a range of health problems and can perpetuate poverty and stymie economic development. Much remains to be done to end malnutrition and achieve a world free from hunger. Hence, why not make it in a fun and effective way, educating children and reaching also adults? 

 

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