Food for thought: why our teachers need to be taught about nutrition

24/07/2017 12:31 BST | Updated 24/07/2017 12:31 BST
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Last month you may have seen the news headlines dominated by "Fish fingers are made of chicken and Fruit Pastilles are one of your five-a-day, say UK children" - just two of the findings from this year's BNF Healthy Eating Week survey of 5,040 school aged children. Other results revealed that a quarter of the primary school children surveyed say that cheese comes from plants, whilst one in ten 8-11 year olds answered that pasta comes from animals. There is clearly a disconnection with food origins.


The survey also asked the children to indicate where they source their information on healthy eating from. Over half (54%) of 11-14 year olds use the Internet as a reliable source of information on healthy eating, and this increases to almost two thirds (64%) for the 14-16 age group. Schools are reported as the second biggest source of information for 14-16 year olds (51%), while two thirds (59%) of 11-14 year olds rely on schools to provide them with the correct information.

Assuming that information about food and health gathered from these sources has an impact on children's nutrition knowledge, and ultimately their lifestyles and health, it is important that we ensure all information is evidence based. We can't control what children access on the internet but we can help to ensure that teachers are equipped with up-to-date information and support. However, research amongst primary school teachers shows that seven in ten teachers have not had the opportunity to receive any professional development in 'food' during the past two years. For those who have, the update has been on food safety only. This low level of food training can also be seen in initial teacher training, with the D&T Association reporting that, during the training year, at best a trainee teacher might receive around three hours of Design and Technology study - with 'food' just being one element.

So, with no formal professional support provided to teachers centrally, schools and individual teachers take on the responsibility for interpreting and delivering the curriculum in their own way. This approach means that there is a risk of conflicting or misleading messaging being disseminated through schools across the UK. It has never been more important for schools and teachers to be armed with the correct information so that children and young adults are able to decipher the facts from the fake news.

Primary school teachers, in particular, play a very important role in helping to shape children's initial food understanding. To help combat potential misinformation, the British Nutrition Foundation has collaborated with Public Health England, and the Department for Education, to launch professional guidelines for primary school teachers which are in line with curriculum demands and outline the knowledge and skills required to teach food and nutrition. The development of the guidelines for food teaching was an action that we felt was essential to ensuring the quality of food teaching in schools.

In order to further address this issue, we have also launched an online professional development training initiative for teachers, titled: Teaching food in primary schools: the why, what and how, which will help address the gap in provision, ensuring that teachers can easily access up-to-date, evidence-based information to support their lessons. As part of the goal to further teachers' knowledge on how to effectively deliver health and nutrition education to primary aged children, the platform will also include support for the organisation and management of practical cooking in the primary classroom.

Schools and families can, and should, successfully work together to, in turn, educate children and then motivate them in their endeavours to make healthier choices. Furthermore, the links between physical activity, health and diet should be frequently highlighted by the government's programmes. At the BNF, we would like to see food and nutrition education for teachers included in the government's Obesity Plan to ensure that all teachers receive relevant training and have an understanding of the important role they play in supporting the health and wellbeing of children in their care.

The training will form part of our charitable work, as well as lasting legacy for our 50th anniversary, ensuring that teachers are confident, competent and motivated in delivering fantastic lessons that inspire children, and equip them for life.