Giving healthy living a kickstart

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Pupils in Aberdeenshire devised food and exercise plans to help their peers stay fit into old age. Jean McLeish reports

These Aberdeenshire pupils are Scotland's future centenarians - young people who can expect to live until they are 100. And a groundbreaking project in Aberdeenshire is encouraging healthy lifestyles to help them stay fit into their old age.

Senior pupils have undertaken their own research to influence future policies on healthy eating and active living in their schools and communities.

Students from 12 secondary schools investigated the views and preferences of younger pupils on key issues such as diet and exercise. They then came up with innovative schemes to improve lifestyle choices made by children and adults.

This morning they are presenting their ideas as part of a project, delivered by the local authority in partnership with NHS Grampian, to develop leadership skills in the pupils involved.

"We were keen to look at health and well-being, especially from the aspects of healthy eating, physical activity and healthy weight," says Dr Mary Bellizzi, the health improvement officer with responsibility for healthy eating and active living within Aberdeenshire Community Health Partnership.

"We know that weight is becoming quite an issue in Scotland and among young people, and we really want to make sure that the message is getting across and that these young people take the lead in terms of influencing peers and lifestyles."

Pupils suggested menu changes in school canteens and new options for exercise and gave motivational talks on healthy eating at school assemblies. They are showcasing their ideas to their peers and to some of the decision-makers today at Fraserburgh Academy.

Pupils from Turriff Academy describe plans to introduce a meal deal option in the school canteen for a trial period. "We decided the summer term would be best, because in the winter most people eat stovies," fifth-year pupil Georgia Booth tells the audience.

They discovered that more pupils were going to the chip shop than using the school canteen. "So we were trying to get more variety in there to entice the fifth and sixth-years back," Georgia explains.

"We did some surveys and questionnaires to find out what people wanted," says her friend, Laura Adams. "We spoke about salads, but they were more interested in fruit in their salads than most of the common ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers. We were quite interested in putting some fruit in, but when we researched it more, it wasn't going to be financially viable."

After their presentation, Georgia explains that it was pound;2.50 to make the salad with fruit, but they only wanted to pay pound;1.50. Following market research at their local Tesco and discussion with the school canteen, the group decided to try a meal deal next term.

"We're going to do a wrap, a juice and fruit for pound;2 instead of a salad, because more people have shown interest in something they can just take away in a bag and eat," she says.

At Mintlaw Academy, the team focused on new exercise strategies and decided to harness the craze for Zumba, the Latin-inspired dance fitness programme.

A lunchtime session has proved popular with pupils and teachers and attendance doubled after a week.

"They seem to enjoy it and they have a good laugh," says sixth-year Fiona Redmond. "It's for anyone: you don't have to be really good at sports. And you don't have to be self-conscious, because it's in the dark apart from the disco lights," says classmate Pamela Naylor.

Councillor Isobel Davidson, vice-chair of the council's education, leisure and learning committee, was impressed with the range of ideas: "I think we could take this to the committee because it will be interested to see what is happening throughout the schools - and also with the young people taking it forward, rather than just teachers.

"It makes a huge difference with folk if it's their peers telling them they need to have healthier lifestyles."

During their work pupils learnt about project management and leadership skills. In the next phase, they will evaluate and select some of the ideas for further development.

"Their ideas will feed into our development plan for health and well- being," says Audrey Hendry, quality improvement officer with a remit for health and well-being across Aberdeenshire. "They will be real projects for next year."


Research among S1 pupils at Ellon Academy discovered that 57 per cent of girls and 39 per cent of boys feel their body image affects their confidence.

One in three girls and one in five boys said they had dieted, according to surveys carried out by a team of S4 girls.

The older pupils then targeted areas of concern when they delivered assemblies to the first-year pupils.

"We targeted the first-year assemblies because we thought they're younger, so there is more chance of influencing them in making better decisions," says Joanna Kearney, 15.

"After we've finished we are going to send out another survey and see how much they have learnt from them," she says. "Then next year we will go on to do mental health."

The team will continue to deliver the assemblies when the first years move into S2 and they will also present to the new S1 intake.

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