Is food education key to a healthier future generation?

by Allyson Schwab Rodriguez

Did you know?

  • A stick of celery contains 6 calories, but as soon as you cook it the calories increase to 30. 
  • Obesity related illnesses cost the US healthcare system $173 billion per year. 
  • You burn approximately 300 calories by walking for one hour.

The lunch bell rings, everyone storms out of class to buy some food. The majority of students go grab something quick and cheap, mostly processed foods. That is why I questioned, why we don’t get educated on the impact of food on our bodies at school, so I did some research and interviewed two authorities at my school.  

Nutrition is a major aspect of maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases. As Dr. Giles Yeo said in an interview with Steven Bartlett: ‘Obesity doesn’t kill us, it’s all the diseases which are associated with obesity which do, like diabetes, coronary issues and various cancers.” 

Most humans do not understand the health impact of foods they put in their bodies, due to a lack of education

In an interview with the deputy director of the Realgymnasium Rämibühl, a high school in Zurich, he said that he “was astonished that food nutrition isn’t a key component in the school curriculum”.  The school curriculum contains the basic learning material teachers need to include in their lessons, however the rest they can adjust to their liking. 

He stated “the connection between nutrition, the body and health is extremely important”.  Prior to being the school director at Rämibühl, he was a biology teacher in another Kanton, Thurgau. There, he used one semester, to educate his students on the theme food nutrition, digestive systems and the connection between the two.

One experiment he did with his students was that each student had to track what they eat for a day. They had to count the calories of every meal they ate, measuring the main nutrient sources, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Although, the focus was not on processed or whole foods, just the nutrients. They also had to calculate their BMI online. BMI stands for body mass index, and it calculates your maintenance calories, which are the calories you need on average per day to sustain your current weight. All you have to do is give in your height, weight, age and optionally your activity level, then the BMI calculator gives you the results. The students had to then compare their BMI with the calories they ate in a day, and in the end they figured, that on average the students were eating under their maintenance calories.

Studies from Centers for Desease control and Preventation show that fewer than one in ten children and adults eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables. In general, adults and children do not consume enough micro vitamins,  which can have crucial consequences. For example, if the mother of a newborn lacks nutrients and vitamins, the newborn child cannot receive all it’s needed nutrients to grow and suffers from mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Globally more than half of the children, which are younger than five years old, suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. 

The school curriculum in Zurich is being updated at the moment, with the goal to set the focus on competence and skill promotion of the students, instead of focusing on the content and learning everything by heart.  In fact, biology will be completely changed, introducing food nutrition education. The school director also thinks it would be a good idea to include nutrition modules, in which the students actively participate in exploring the variety of foods, different types of foods and analysing their own diet, to realise how important food is in our lives to remain healthy. 

 This leads us to the other important part of living a healthy life, exercise.

 The school director commented on his perception of the goals which should be achieved in obligatory school sports. On one side, it should ensure the students participate with some movement exercises to use the muscles and joints.  Another important factor is socialising, bringing the class together, practice team building, team work and team spirit. One more aspect is theory, in order to comprehend how moving our bodies is essential for maintaining a healthy body.

Looking at the bigger picture the school directors opinion on food education is that food does have a major influence on our life quality, it influences who we become and how our bodies work. Therefore receiving an early education on a balanced diet and how important it is for our health is vital.

In order to give everyone the opportunity to eat healthily, nutritional foods should be available at affordable prices. In today’s world this is a major problem, since “fast foods” which are high in fat and sodium as well as containing minor nutritional values, are much cheaper and more convenient than fresh vegetables and fruits, which need to be prepared into a meal. 

The school canteen in Zurich is separate from the school, meaning that the school director has no influence over it.  He thinks there could definitely be improvement in the canteen, to enhance healthy eating at our school, such as educating students on nutrition. His ideas would be lowering prices of whole, freshly made foods, and to focus on variability of foods and creating more menu options. 

The chef of the school canteen provided another perspective into the lack of education at school about nutrition.  The school canteen receives strict regulations from a company, on portion sizes of the meals, amount of nutrients in each serving, the meal itself and prices. Most products used to prepare meals must be domestically sourced, especially meat, eggs and flour. Another rule is, that there must be a meat meal and a vegetarian meal every lunch.

According to the canteen chef, “it is a challenge to prepare requested meals for the students, due to their limited supply offer, controlled by their head company”. Yet the cooks in the canteen give their best effort to prepare delicious meals with the given ingredients. The amount of additives, artificial substances and preservatives in the food is also fixed by the company. 

The canteen tries to sell the same amount of processed foods as whole foods, to leave as much variety and food choices open to the students.

Healthy eating is not promoted actively in the canteen. Every day, the menu plan gets hung up in the canteen, on which all allergens must be shown with symbols and the major nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, fats and calories must be written below. 

Nutritional education can help form healthy eating habits, which would pass on to future generations, and then potentially many diseases would be avoided, health costs would go down and the importance of a balanced diet would be clearer.  In addition, increased knowledge about nutrition can give people a different perspective about food, how to identify foods which fuel our bodies while also maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

By providing students with the knowledge and importance of foods, schools can help create a healthier future for the next generation

Food is becoming a vital focus in today’s world, bringing many problems with it such as diseases, hunger and costs.  Education is the solution to create generations with healthy lifestyle habits. 

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