Nutri­tion

Schools could be do­ing bet­ter at get­ting across healthy food mes­sages.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Jen­nifer Bow­den

Schools could be do­ing bet­ter at get­ting across healthy food mes­sages.

Schools have a long way to go to put what they’re teach­ing chil­dren about health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion into ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s first chief ed­u­ca­tion health and nutri­tion ad­viser, Grant Schofield. “It’s hard to imag­ine other parts of the cur­ricu­lum where there would be that much hypocrisy,” says Schofield, who laments that schools, of all el­e­ments of so­ci­ety, set a bad ex­am­ple of healthy eat­ing. “It’s an em­peror’s-gotno-clothes sit­u­a­tion, be­cause it’s not close to be­ing okay.”

Ubiq­ui­tous food-based school fundrais­ers ex­em­plify the un­healthy mes­sage. Ac­cord­ing to a School Food En­vi­ron­ment Re­view and Sup­port Tool (School-Ferst) na­tional study last year, 82% of pri­mary schools used sales of food and drinks for fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and of those schools, 90% re­ported us­ing “oc­ca­sional” or un­healthy items.

Sell­ing choco­late bars is pop­u­lar but frowned on by Schofield. Al­though he ac­knowl­edges re­mov­ing con­fec­tionery from school fundrais­ers won’t at a stroke solve chil­dren’s weight and den­tal prob­lems, it’s a start. “We’ve re­ally got to be­gin mak­ing progress here, be­cause de­spite a lot of talk about this over the past cou­ple of decades, the prob­lem has got worse.”

If he imag­ined Min­is­ter of Health Jonathan Cole­man would get be­hind such a ban, he’d be wrong. When Schofield mooted the idea in April, Cole­man tweeted, “I’m happy for schools to con­tinue do­ing choco­late box fundrais­ers – I’ve sold plenty of them my­self to help my kids’ school.”

Ac­cord­ing to Boyd Swin­burn, pro­fes­sor of pop­u­la­tion nutri­tion and global health at the Univer­sity of Auck­land, the min­is­ter’s re­ac­tion is ex­actly what healthy-eat­ing ed­u­ca­tors are up against. “This is a prime ex­am­ple of un­der­min­ing the teach­ing and the cur­ricu­lum – not only that schools have un­healthy fundrais­ers but also that the Min­is­ter of Health is un­der­min­ing the cur­ricu­lum.”

Schools are a light­house for their com­mu­nity, says Swin­burn. “But what light are they shin­ing? Is it a light that’s say­ing it’s okay for kids to eat junk food or one show­ing al­ter­na­tives? Peo­ple – par­ents and kids – take no­tice of what schools do. The food avail­able at fundrais­ers, at sports days and in the can­teen speaks more loudly than the healthy-food cur­ricu­lum.”

For that rea­son, St Peter’s Catholic School in Cam­bridge gave it­self a di­etary makeover. It used to do choco­late fundrais­ers and sausage siz­zles, says of­fice man­ager Donna War­wick, un­til it joined Project En­er­gize, a joint AUT and Sport Waikato pro­gramme. “When the project started, we wanted to pro­mote healthy eat­ing and keep­ing ac­tive, so we weren’t com­fort­able sell­ing choco­late.”

The Waikato Dis­trict Health Board­funded ef­fort in­volv­ing 240 schools aims to im­prove chil­dren’s nutri­tion, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity lev­els and ul­ti­mately their health. “Sell­ing cho­co­lates in­creases the intake of high-sugar, low-nutri­ent food in the school com­mu­nity,” says Sport Waikato’s Richard Bat­tersby, the project team leader for Hamil­ton and North Waikato. “Our goal is to sup­port schools to do the op­po­site – for ex­am­ple, in­crease veg­etable and fruit con­sump­tion.”

War­wick says St Peter’s saw that sell­ing choco­late would de­feat the pur­pose of what the school was

try­ing to achieve. “We had to find a bet­ter way of fundrais­ing that would em­brace our healthy mind, healthy body phi­los­o­phy, and from that came the idea of the Waipa fun run.”

Six years af­ter its in­cep­tion, the run is now an an­nual event on Cam­bridge’s so­cial cal­en­dar. In March, more than 650 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 300 chil­dren, ran or walked cour­ses of 2km, 5km or 10km. For a school with a roll of 170, says War­wick, the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants and the $17,500 raised were im­pres­sive and proof that there are healthy al­ter­na­tives to the stan­dard choco­late fundrais­ers.

St Peter’s hasn’t stopped there.

The Par­ent Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion has chil­dren’s birth­day cakes in its sights. “When it was some­one’s birth­day, par­ents were bring­ing in a cake or cup­cakes or what­ever for the whole class,” says War­wick. “If you have, say, an av­er­age of 26 kids in a class, over the school year, in most weeks there’s a birth­day with cakes or lol­lies and lol­lipops.”

In­stead of lav­ish­ing sug­ary stuff on their child’s class­mates, fam­i­lies are be­ing en­cour­aged to mark birthdays by do­nat­ing a book to the school li­brary. “A lit­tle in­sert says

‘this book was pre­sented on the birth­day of’ who­ever. It’s a good way for the li­brary to stock up and bet­ter for stu­dents who aren’t be­ing filled up with all those treats,” says War­wick.

There are many ways for schools to raise funds that don’t harm health, says Bat­tersby. Some have cho­sen the EcoS­tore Good Soap for a Good Cause fundraiser. Oth­ers are stag­ing dis­cos, con­certs, rea­dathons and mufti days; sell­ing the En­ter­tain­ment Book, plant seedlings, stu­dent art­works and cal­en­dars, do­nated fruit and vege­ta­bles and clothes pegs; or raf­fling travel vouchers.

“Fundrais­ing can be an op­por­tu­nity to in­volve chil­dren in think­ing cre­atively and learn­ing mar­ket­ing skills,” says Bat­tersby. Project En­er­gize worked with one school that ran a car wash one day a week at lunchtime, for ex­am­ple. “The thing the prin­ci­pal didn’t an­tic­i­pate was the ben­e­fits to stu­dents from the team­work, or­gan­i­sa­tion and plan­ning in­volved, which added value to school life.” Much more so than any box of choco­late bars.

Email your nutri­tion ques­tions to nutri­tion@lis­tener.co.nz

The num­ber of Waipa fun run par­tic­i­pants and the $17,500 raised were proof there are healthy al­ter­na­tives to choco­late fundrais­ers.

Grant Schofield: choco­late fundrais­ers need to stop.

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