Back to school: eating healthy from the playground to the classroom

 

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The next debate in the Italian Parliament will be about a bill to make vending machines in schools provide healthy snacks. This idea resulted from the need to combat child obesity in Italy and to extend education beyond the classroom, as increasing health related issues become more urgent. It therefore becomes important to analyse, from different viewpoints, the recreational time given to children at school as a break for relaxation and socializing. So why not turn this collective ritual into an opportunity for students to eat healthier, while stimulating their curiosity and creativity? Chocolate bars made from algae or low-calorie sandwiches and many other yummy treats that range from the more traditional to innovative, is what The Algae Factory has set out to do. This start-up makes tasty and healthy algae-based food products, perfect for people on the constant go. Founded in Amsterdam by Italians, Stefania and Nicola Abbona and Pierluigi Santoro, Algae Factory’s main products are in fact snack made with chocolate and algae, rich in important nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, Omega 3 and 6. Algae Factory also is part of a wonderful project called Bite4Bite which they donate a portion of their products to the Swiss NGO, Antenna Technologis Foundation that uses the nutrient-rich algae products in programs targeting malnutrition all over the world. Another project aimed at making our daily diet as healthy as possible is EAT&OUT, pre-packaged meals created by Biomedfood, a spinoff from Università Politecnica delle Marche. EAT&OUT meals consist of well-balanced, nutritional meals that don’t sacrifice taste. Even the packaging helps maintain the freshness of the product, thanks to the specially developed design.

These innovative approaches meet global widespread needs, even in Italy. The criticality of food and nutrition during a young child’s life can be identified at different levels. Starting from the excessive amounts of sugars in meals, and especially in carbonated soft drinks, as pointed out in a recent study published by the American Heart Association. The most common snacks and drinks consumed by youngsters, as reported in the study, contain quantities of sugar that exceed the ideal limits; for children between 2 and 18 years of age, 25 grams of sugar, equivalent to 6 teaspoons or 100 calories. To achieve these objectives requires cooperation at various levels; between families and institutions to adopt better and healthier policies and habits, as well as within families themselves. Take for example the most important meal of the day: breakfast. As oftentimes breakfast is not adequate (31%), or altogether not consumed (8%), as reported by the research of the national surveillance system, OKkio alla SALUTE, promoted and funded by the Ministry of Health and coordinated by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) and all the Italian regions. In this study, 52% of children were found to consume high energy density foods during midmorning snack time in order to make up for not having eaten breakfast.

In addition to diet, we must also consider the problem of sedentary lifestyles effecting children, “over a fifth of children (23%) in Italy do not participate regularly in physical activities during leisure time and one out of ten children are not active in at school (11 %), due to lack of proper equipment or because it is not simply included in the scholastic programming, as reported in the study “The lifestyles of Italian children” carried out by IPSOS for Save the Children and the Mondelēz Group in Italy.

All over the world alternative solutions for addressing the problem of overeating, and promoting proper food education especially school age are being explored. In China, for example, the nonprofit Juccce teaches children to eat healthy through the “A New Way to Eat” program. China does not have an official food plan, and this has led the country to have the strongest growth of childhood obesity and counts among its population one third of diabetics in the world. Teaching children to have a healthy diet soon became a priority in the country, that’s why Juccce decided to study an educational program that teaches its future Chinese consumers to gain awareness starting at school.

In the US, the home of fast food and, at the same time, pioneering research in healthy living, there are those who want to teach good nutrition to children, such as chef Anne Cooper who last July Cooper was named for the Basque Culinary World Prize, one of the most important prizes for those in the food and wine world engaging in social work. Her projects developed for children, thanks to the “Lunch Box” platform that facilitates the purchase of healthy foods, sharing recipes for canteens, and also providing economic information that can help educational institutions focus on healthy food.

Often times teaching goes hand in hand with play, especially for younger kids. That’s why Jane McGonigal, the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, created a video game, “Superbetter”, to address challenges (even food challenges) acquiring, what in psychology calls, a “gaming mindset “that allows one to face challenges through game. Through this approach, children are able to learn how to confront challenges head on, gain courage and open-mindedness, grasping different strategies in order to find the one that works best, collaborating with others and gradually increasing resilience to deal with bigger challenges in the future.

In Europe, specifically in Britain, there are those like Jamie Oliver who have launched a global day to remind everyone that “Junk Food = Junk Kids”, that is, that a poor diet of junk food will never allow children to grow healthy. Food Revolution Day, launched by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, unites people from all around the world and promotes its central theme of celebrating the pleasure of cooking and eating fresh and healthy foods everywhere. This past May, the number of “food revolutionaries” exceeded 700,000 worldwide.

 

  • Photo credit:  Food Revolution Day – May 20, 2016 Bologna Kinder Haus, Bologna, Italy.