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Food links from farm to physic

Judy Mackie reports on a new pack which, through activities and projects, aims to help children adopt a healthy lifestyle

When a newly-appointed teacher resigns in utter despair at the poor nutritional intake of schoolchildren, it's time to take heed.

The teacher was John Boyd Orr (born 1880 in Ayrshire) and his despair grew into a lifelong passion to find the ideal diet for optimum health. He became a GP, a nutritional research scientist and founding director of the internationally recognised Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen.

Boyd Orr was the first research scientist to demonstrate the health benefits of drinking milk, he led the Carnegie Survey of Family Diet and Health, which was used by the Ministry of Food to devise the food rationing system during the Second World War, and he was knighted and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to nutritional science.

He died in 1971, but his passion for his work lives on in a cross-curricular resource being piloted by more than 70 primary and secondary schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Getting in Shape has been developed by the Aberdeen Environmental Education Centre in partnership with the Rowett Research Institute. It aims to help children adopt a balanced lifestyle by developing their understanding of food production, nutrition and physical activity.

It builds on the highly successful farming and food production resources developed by the AEEC in partnership with the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative, joining up the food chain from farm to fork to physiology.

The pilot pack links directly to the 5-14 curriculum, particularly to health education, English language, social subjects, science and technology, and it provides a wealth of ideas and resources for classroom projects.

The Rowett Research Institute's Rational Food booklet, written by Lorna Saunders, a teacher seconded from Monymusk Primary, and Sue Bird, the institute's communications manager, uses the wartime food rationing system to explore the relationship between diet and health. It uses historical data, including food diaries from the 1940s, and fictional diary entries by Boyd Orr.

In one activity, an extract from Boyd Orr's diary provides the basis for a class discussion of who would have been entitled to extra rations because of their special nutritional needs.

This is followed by a role-playing exercise in which pupils play wartime characters and vote on who should get extra rations.

Getting in Shape also includes a Snacks, Snakes and Ladders game, a Balance of Good Health Food plate and a What's In Food? wheel.

There are links to organisations that can provide information and direct learning experiences, such as the RNCI's Countryside Classroom on Wheels (which visits schools free of charge), class visits to local farms and interactive drama presentations in school by LiveWire Productions.

Getting in Shape promotes a thinking approach to nutrition education, which builds on children's awareness of the health messages they already receive at school, at home and from the media, and gets them to analyse why nutrition and exercise are so important for a healthy life.

Feedback from teachers has been enthusiastic, with comments such as: "This is a superb, high quality resource. The addition of the diaries is inspired."

Pat MacDonald, a home economics teacher and chair of the Health Working Group at Torry Academy in Aberdeen, attended the launch of the pack. She says: "This is very relevant to what we are doing in our school. A lot of children don't know where certain foods come from and this will help. The materials will help to get that knowledge over to them in a different, more exciting way. I'm sure other subject teachers will also find it interesting."

Jane McDonald, who teaches P6-P7 at Westhill Primary in Aberdeenshire, says the pack will be useful for the health topic her school is planning, as well as for the P7s' project on the Second World War.

Over the next few months, the AEEC and the Rowett Research Institute will work with schools to gather feedback and take on board new ideas.

"The project has the potential to have national impact," says the AEEC's service co-ordinator, Allan Paterson.

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