The Healthy Lifestyles Project (HLSP)
Childhood obesity has increased at an alarming rate and has been described as ‘one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century’ by the World Health Organisation (p1, 2018). Current figures show that the number of children who are obese doubles from 10 to 20% during the time they are at primary school (National Child Measurement Programme, 2019).
Research shows that the more successful health interventions are ‘multi-pronged’ are more successful, so the theoretical framework that the Healthy Lifestyles Project (HLSP) aligns most closely with is the Social-Ecological Model (fig.1.):
Fig.1.: Image of the Social-Ecological Model (from: Simmons, P. and Bowler, M. (2020) Introducing a new pedagogical model from health-based PE)
A Social-Ecological Model focuses around behavioural changes of self, interpersonal, organisational, community and public policy. By working with the school (organisation), parents (community) and the children individually and as a group (person/interpersonal) this gives the project a strong theoretical framework to influence public policy around cooking and nutrition teaching in primary schools.
So what can primary D&T do to help tackle this project?
Although much of the research shows that there are many factors as to why we have this obesity crisis, one key factor is the lack of understanding of adults as what is healthy eating, and how to cook healthy dishes. In September 2018 I started a six-year longitudinal study to see if teaching children cooking and nutrition in a practical way every term, from year 1 to year 6, would change their attitudes and behaviours towards healthy eating and ultimately, reduce the number of children who became overweight or obese.
So what did I do?
I drew on the experience of the Adopt a School programme which was founded in 1990 by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, whose vision is to teach children about food in ‘a holistic sense and has the confidence to eat well, be healthy and happy. Our programme encourages them to develop healthy eating habits, an enthusiasm and interest in food, cooking, food provenance and sustainability, as well as giving an insight into the hospitality industry.”
So, together with Adopt a School Programme’s executive chef Idris Caldora, and Naomi Atamaniuk, the KS1 leader from Milford Academy, the ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ Project was born.
So how does the HLSP work?
The Healthy Lifestyles Project is a programme of resources and guidance for staff, children and parents which aims to make a positive contribution to tackling children’s health in the UK and beyond.
The HLSP believes that the project could make a real difference to the whole family by providing every year:
- regular termly cooking and nutrition lessons
- termly support for parents in the shape of ‘Top Tips’ leaflets and website information
- opportunities for children to plant, grow and eat their own fruit and vegetables in the school grounds
- lots of chances to get active at break times, lunchtimes and in PE sessions
- Teaching resources for before, during and after the practical food sessions
The Design and Technology Association (DATA) recommend a minimum of one cooking and nutrition unit per year. The HLSP provides 2 units per year group, which gives class teachers the opportunity to teach more than one unit per year, offers flexibility around mixed year groups and variety.
These units are designed to teach children the basics of food and cookery without the need for cooking facilities – which most primary schools lack. All that is required is a classroom. These practical sessions follow best practice in D&T, by using Investigative & Evaluative Activities (IEAs), Focused Tasks (FTs) and Design, Make and Evaluate Assignments (DMEAs).
A key to the success of the HLSP was engaging with the parents. As a result, their awareness of the risk of their children becoming overweight/obese has increased from 49% to 62%, and nearly half (47%) are now using the Eatwell guide to help them with food choices, compared to only 26% before.
After the children have taken part in the practical food session, to support the parents, a termly ‘Top Tips’ leaflet has been produced to send home, together with a follow-up activity encouraging the children to reproduce their dish at home, or to enjoy the food they have made with their family. It was very clear to me that parents want to feed their children healthy meals, but there are many barriers in the way – time, money and lack of knowledge and skills, were all repeatedly mentioned.
Parents were also invited into the practical food sessions to watch their children join in and learn – this was very well attended and great fun!
The school website is also a fantastic tool to communicate with the parents. Links were included here to key websites – NHS and food a fact of life, as well as regular updates, photos and challenges.
An additional element was the development of a school garden, run by a volunteer gardener, one day a week. Research shows that children are much more likely to eat produce that they have grown, so this is great opportunity to connect children with the food they eat, however, it can be problematic. One of the key problems I have experienced in the past, is the produce we plant and look after, is ready to harvest in the summer holidays. So, these unites have been based around produce that can be harvested during the academic term.
It is essential that the staff team are trained in how to prepare food safely, how to manage food sessions, key skills and techniques using tools, equipment and methods that are age-appropriate and progressive, delivered through high quality D&T pedagogy of IEAs, FTs and DMEAs - it is NOT about just following a recipe!
The work has been captured in a ‘Teacher’s Toolkit’ to support other schools build on what I believe will be a successful approach to tackling childhood obesity.