Information for Schools

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7 Ways to Promote ‘HEAL’ at Schools

Establish a school environment that promotes childhood growth, health, and learning; help reduce the risk for chronic diseases of adulthood; and supports healthy eating choices and active lifestyles.

1. Adopt a policy that promotes healthy eating and active lifestyles through classroom lessons and a supportive school environment

A coordinated and written school nutrition policy can powerfully influence students' attitudes, preferences, and behaviours related to food. It should incorporate input from students, teachers, public health professionals, and parents.

  • Healthy, appealing foods should be available in the cafeteria/canteen.
  • Schools should recommend that parents and teachers serve healthy snacks and treats at classrooms, special occasions/events and athletic competitions.
  • Schools should discourage the sale of foods high in fat, sodium, and added sugars (e.g., candy, fried chips, and soda) on school grounds and as part of fundraising activities.
  • If schools contract with food service management companies to supply meals, they should be required to serve appealing, low-fat, low-sodium meals.
  • Schools should establish links with qualified public health and nutrition professionals who can implement nutrition education and health promotion activities.

2. Implement nutrition education and promote active lifestyles

The lessons should be sequential and attention should be paid to scope and sequence.

Linking nutrition and physical activity is also particularly important because of the rising proportion of overweight youth. Nutrition education lessons should stress the importance of combining regular physical activity.

The primary goal should be to help children adopt active lifestyles and eating behaviours that will promote health; reduce risk for disease; and teach them to understand the relationship between personal behaviour and health, as:

  • unhealthy eating behaviours may be interrelated with other health risk factors (e.g., cigarette smoking and sedentary lifestyle)
  • nutrition education encourages taking responsibility for one's health, and increases confidence in one's ability to make health-enhancing behavioural changes

3. Provide nutrition education for students through developmentally appropriate, fun, participatory activities

Nutrition education for:

  • Young children should include increasing exposure to many healthy foods and building skills in choosing healthy foods.
  • Middle and high school should focus on helping students assess their own eating behaviours and set goals for improving their food selection.
  • Older children should emphasise personal responsibility, decision-making skills, and resisting negative social pressures.

Active Learning and an Emphasis on Fun

Students are more likely to adopt healthy eating behaviours when

  • they learn about these behaviours through fun, participatory activities rather than through lectures (e.g.; games, quizzes, growing vegetables in pots/school garden);
  • lessons emphasise the positive, appealing aspects of healthy eating patterns rather than the negative consequences of unhealthy eating patterns;

Computer-based lessons on nutrition can also be effective, and are now available to help children learn healthy food selection skills and assess their own diets.

Social learning instruction is also particularly effective and emphasises:
  • identifying the benefits of adopting healthy eating patterns, including short-term benefits that are important to children (e.g., physical appearance and capacity for physical activities);
  • helping students make healthy food choices and resist negative social pressures

4. Coordinate school food service with nutrition education to reinforce messages on healthy eating

The school cafeteria experience should be coordinated with classroom lessons to allow students to apply critical thinking skills taught in the classroom. School food service personnel can:

  • offer healthy foods that reinforce classroom lessons
  • post in the cafeteria posters and fliers on nutrition, and
  • display nutrition information about available foods and give students opportunities to practice food analysis and selection skills learned in the classroom.

5. Provide appropriate healthy eating and active lifestyle trainings for school staff that focuses on teaching strategies for behavioural change

Training in nutrition and health education can increase the extent to which teachers implement lessons, which in turn affects the likelihood that students' eating behaviours will change.

Training should address content and teaching strategies and involve multiple sessions spaced across time so that teachers can try out the newly learned techniques in their classrooms and report on their experiences to the training group, and provide post-training sessions so that teachers can share experiences with their peers.

6. Involve family members and the community in supporting and reinforcing healthy, active lifestyles

The attitudes and behaviours of parents and family directly influence children's choice of foods. To get them more involved, schools can:

  • send health messages, nutrition education materials and cafeteria menus home
  • ask parents to send healthy snacks to school
  • invite families to attend exhibitions of student nutrition projects
  • assign nutrition education homework that students can do with their families (e.g., reading and interpreting food labels, reading nutrition-related newsletters, and preparing healthy recipes)

Students are most likely to adopt healthy eating behaviours if they receive consistent messages through multiple channels (e.g., home, school, community, and the media) and from multiple sources (e.g., parents, peers, teachers, health professionals, and the media).

7. Evaluate school programs in promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles, and make changes to increase its effectiveness

Policymakers should regularly review the effectiveness of the school nutrition program. All groups affected by the program should have the opportunity to provide input, including teachers, parents, food service providers and community organisations involved.

Valid evaluations can increase parent and community support for school programs, help schools reward teachers for exceptional work, and apply for grants to enhance school health programs.