Let's take the healthier route to basic skills

10th December 2010 at 00:00

It was heartening to read of Wallacetown Nursery's success with promoting healthy eating for children and their parents (TESS, November 19). Roll on healthier times when we see similar success in many more schools. How can we afford to ignore the health and well-being content in Curriculum for Excellence, given that Scotland has the second-highest level of obesity in the world? How, with severe cuts coming, are we to tackle this problem?

After reading your report, "Munch crunch hits back in fight against obesity," I considered the problem. In recent years, the range of products available in shops has changed immensely. In one supermarket, I counted four aisles of big meal convenience foods. Lasagne, shepherd's pie, stews - all ready-made family-sized dinners for chucking in the microwave and pressing a button for a few minutes. What they all had in common was unhealthy levels of fat and sugar, not to mention artificial additives.

None of this was available when I was a kid. Yet, far from being damaged by the absence of instant meals, people of my age were thoroughly blessed, since we were fortunate enough to experience wholesome home-cooked food. Some of the CfE outcomes in "health and well-being" simply wouldn't have been necessary in the past - for instance, "having explored a range of issues which may affect food choice, I can discuss how this could impact on the individual's health". I was brought up on the Isle of Skye and my diet was healthy.

There are now major issues surrounding food. Ignorance regarding basic cooking and the negative effects of poor diet is no respecter of social class or education. In the TESS report, Gillian Dick stated that university-educated participants at her workshops didn't know what to do with turnips and parsnips.

Add to this disconcerting fact Scotland's abysmally low breastfeeding figures. A Scottish Government health improvement target has been set to increase the proportion of babies exclusively breastfed at 6-8 weeks in Scotland from 26.2 per cent in 2006-07 to 32.7 per cent in 2010-11. So far, there has been little improvement.

Yet there is condiderable evidence that breastfeeding has a protective effect against many childhood illnesses. Breastfed infants are likely to have a reduced risk of infection - particularly those affecting the ear, respiratory tract and gastro-intestinal tract. Other probable benefits include improved cognitive and psychological developments, and a reduced risk of childhood obesity. Shouldn't we be promoting and teaching this in schools?

The cornerstone of CfE has to be joined-up thinking. If lifelong learning is the key to success, we must pay more than lip service to outcomes such as "I continue to enjoy daily participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity." The link between physical activity and general well- being is unequivocally established, yet how many pupils have daily exercise on their school timetables?

Hitherto, we have been trying to be too esoteric in our discussions about CfE. We spend hours debating the future look of rationales and assessments. But broadening debates is wise, so we should abandon the scenic route through nebulous jargon and take the direct road to teaching basic skills and content. Mens sana in corpore sano.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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