Let's put food back on the menu

11th May 2007 at 01:00
FOOD EDUCATION should become curriculum fare for all pupils right through secondary school so that healthy eating becomes a natural part of life, a home economics conference will hear tomorrow.

Annette Ferri, a leading proponent of the argument that nutrition affects children's learning abilities, will call on those behind A Curriculum for Excellence to expand the teaching of cookery life skills.

Giving the Baxters Award speech at the Scottish home economics conference in Dundee, Mrs Ferri will argue that schools are witnessing a steep rise in the numbers of pupils diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Research has produced robust evidence linking diet, behaviour, mood, and learning.

Mrs Ferri, who teaches home economics at Brannock High in Motherwell and is doing a doctorate at Strathclyde University, describes the "spiralling consumption" of junk food by young people in her own school.

"The brain must be affected by junk food," she says. "This must in turn affect learning, as well as how the body functions."

While acknowledging government initiatives to improve the nutritional value of school meals, notably the Hungry for Success policy and the commitment to make all schools health-promoting by 2007, she adds: "It is all very well telling children what to eat, and mounting numerous initiatives to improve the diet of young people, but they must also have the necessary food preparation skills to enable them to buy and cook healthy, nutritious food at home."

Mrs Ferri points out that many schools only teach home economics in the first two years of secondary, after which it becomes an elective subject.

"A Curriculum for Excellence might address some of these issues," she says, "but it is not far-reaching enough. Food education, which includes food preparation skills, should be part of the core curriculum for every pupil at every stage of the life course."

Mrs Ferri refers to comments by Jack McConnell two years ago when the then First Minister suggested the obesity "time bomb" could be defused by older people passing on home cooking skills to young people instead of relying on fast food.

"However," Mrs Ferri argues, "the use of untrained personnel to teach food education would not address this important issue. It could encourage pupils to believe that food knowledge is to be found outside school, instead of being part of the curriculum.

"Where do children get the opportunity to practise food preparation skills within an educational background? If not in the home and not in school, then where?"

She adds that the prevention of diet-related illnesses, allied to the long-term economic bene-fits of NHS savings, should persu-ade politicians to invest in home economics.

THE SCANDINAVIAN EXPERIENCE

Three years ago, Annette Ferri received a teaching scholarship from the General Teaching Council for Scotland to research how nutrients affect the brain in learning. She visited a Swedish secondary to compare practices with those in a Scottish school. Her findings include: Young people in the Scottish school in Scotland snacked throughout the day on crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks high in fat, sugar and salt.

The Swedish school included food education as part of the core curriculum for all year groups. Practical food preparation was seen as a life skill and an essential part of a pupil's education.

In Iceland and Finland, pupils are taught food skills from the age of six.

Finland and Sweden combine a system of free school lunches with integrated nutrition, health and education policies.

HOW NUTRITION AFFECTS THE BRAIN

Hippocrates, 460 BC, said: "Food that is good for the heart is likely to be good for the brain".

Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry, London, said: "The mother is responsible for 70 per cent of brain cells before birth and successive generations depend on the mother laying down good brain cells - a direct result of the food eaten prenatally."

Dr Alexandra Richardson, senior researcher at Oxford University, focuses on the role of fatty acids in psychiatric disorders. She says the rise in these disorders could be attributed to poor nutrition.

Professor John Stein, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, suggests that reading problems may result from impaired development of the large visual magnocellular neurones in the brain which are vulnerable to deficiency of omega-3 fish oils that help rapid responses.

How nutrition affects the brain Hippocrates, 460 BC, said: "Food that is good for the heart is likely to be good for the brain".

Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry, London, said: "The mother is responsible for 70 per cent of brain cells before birth and successive generations depend on the mother laying down good brain cells - a direct result of the food eaten prenatally."

Dr Alexandra Richardson, senior researcher at Oxford University, focuses on the role of fatty acids in psychiatric disorders. She says the rise in these disorders could be attributed to poor nutrition.

Professor John Stein, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, suggests that reading problems may result from impaired development of the large visual magnocellular neurones in the brain which are vulnerable to deficiency of omega-3 fish oils that help rapid responses.

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