Malnutrition in schools – a problem far too great to ignore!

As I flicked through various Twitter feeds which highlighted that food banks in Britain are expecting a greater demand during school holidays it struck me just how worrying malnutrition is in this country. Most people think of malnutrition as bad nutrition and in its most life threatening form it is often associated with images of starving children in underdeveloped countries with kwashiorkor or marasmus and protruding ribs.Yet malnutrition, can be linked to the over consumption of food and conditions such as obesity, diabetes and under consumption of food and its ill effects such as deficiency diseases like rickets, anemia and osteoporosis.

We are facing two extremes of malnutrition in this country.On one hand we have child hunger and calls for the government to do something about it and on the other, childhood obesity and calls for the government to take the necessary steps to prevent and treat it. Some children arrive in our schools hungry, without breakfast the fuel needed to help them to learn and develop; without food a basic human right. Others grab a quick convenient sugar filled drink or snack on route to schools when in fact complex carbohydrates and proteins would be more suitable for creating satiety and improving concentration and indeed overall well-being.

Malnutrition in pupils often leads to irritability, tiredness, inability to concentrate and ultimately leads to lack of progress within an educational setting. How can we begin to expect children who are poorly nourished to have the energy required to process the information given to them in many forms in our schools?

As always this leads me back to the topic of food education. I sincerely believe that food education can help in the fight against food poverty and childhood obesity and can be applied in many ways such as within the national curriculum, enrichment programmes and community based projects.

Food education when applied with confidence, knowledge and the appropriate skills can teach people :

To understand which nutrients are needed during various life stages for optimum health.
To eat complex carbohydrates and protein to increase satiety.
To make informed choices regarding their dietary intake.
To prioritize healthy eating.
To budget for food shopping.
To grow your own food.
To eat food which are plentiful and in season and therefore cheaper to buy.
To use leftovers in a productive way.
To prepare meat free recipes which can be cheaper.
To recognize the benefits of cooking meals with reasonably priced store cupboard ingredients.
To access nutritional information and resources.
To plan menus.
The technical and practical skills needed to prepare meals.
To recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
To practice mindful eating.
To understand the link between dietary practices and physical, social and emotional health.
To eat together as a family and its importance.

Etc, etc , etc I could go on.

Can food education eradicate food poverty and childhood obesity alone? No, but it can certainly help. As a nation we need to look at two basic human rights ; the right to food and the right to education.Combine the two and we may just find a solution to many of our problems!

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Feel free to comment or email me at foodandhealthteacher@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss this blog further.

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