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Line-dancing for the mind, body and spirit

Links being forged by the Government did not grab headlines, but were welcomed by public health specialists. Nicolas Barnard reports

Lessons in healthy living in Louth, Lincolnshire, are more likely to involve line-dancing and fruit-tasting than stern lists of do's and don'ts.

St Michael's primary has just celebrated five years as one of the European Network of Health-Promoting Schools by organising a health fair for the town. The 245-pupil St Michael's is one of 47 English members of the network of schools which place health in its widest sense - health of mind, body and spirit, healthy relationships - at the heart of school life.

Children are encouraged to feel happy, confident and secure in class and at home, headteacher Maria Teanby says. "We have done a tremendous amount of work on building up self-esteem. Children can't make healthy choices unless they can deal with peer-group pressure."

Work on healthy eating starts before reception class with a teddy bears' picnic to which parents are asked to bring a nutritious packed lunch. At morning break, children are given slow-energy-release snacks such as fruit and cereal bars rather than chocolate.

The message has got home, says health co-ordinator Janet Hirst. "When we started, children brought bars of chocolate and crisps - that was lunch. Now we see bowls of salad, pasta, rice salads." The improvement in children's concentration has been noticeable, as has less obesity and better teeth.

Carol Healy, of the Health Education Authority which manages the English health-promoting schools network, says the concept "meets the needs of the school in more ways than simply health. A health-promoting school is an effective school and vice versa."

The school has written The Tree of Life, a book with tick-boxes for children to trace their health education through their primary school career. Mrs Teanby says: "We're throwing down the gauntlet to any secondary school to write the next bit."

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