Why we are what we eat

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
At a time when eating disorders are high among teenagers, Angela McFarlane welcomes a bumper pack of resources from the British Nutrition Foundation.


Food A Fact of Life: Energy and Nutrients Age group: 11-16 Mixed media, Pounds 47, British Nutrition Foundation, High Holborn House, 52-54 High Holborn, London WC1V 6RQ

Most science courses include at some point an exercise where students record everything they eat and drink over a period of time. The food consumed is then analysed in terms of the nutrient content and compared to a recommended daily food intake. Two things became apparent when classes return with their food list: first, that the information available in reference sources about processed food is inadequate, and second, that most adolescents seem to live on frozen pizza.

The British Nutrition Foundation, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has produced what is promised to be the first of six units. Energy and Nutrients is a bumper pack of mixed media resources including two videos, information sheets, data sheets, case studies, experiment sheets, food cards and a computer program called EatMeter.

You get a lot for the Pounds 47 they charge, which is clearly heavily subsidised. This is carefully cross-referenced to 11-16 curriculums. However, the level of detail and coverage the pack provides also make it useful for GNVQ and A-level studies in biology or any food science-related topic.

The information provided in the Food A fact of life materials is comprehensive, unbiased and accurate. The language used is clear and concise and the standard of presentation is excellent. There is good use of colour and the printed materials are on good-quality plasticised card, which can be photocopied for use in schools.

The videos, posters and stimulus cards showing attractive full colour images will be useful for whole class teaching, although the bulk of the material provides an ideal resource for small group work or students' independent studies on nutrition. Given the emphasis of the post-Dearing science curriculum on analysis and evaluation of data from secondary sources, this pack should be very welcome.

The material is presented in 10 topic areas, Energy, Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, Minerals, Vitamins, Alcohol, Nutritional Needs, Digestion and Food Composition. Some like energy and nutrients are enormous subjects and the pack has tried to be comprehensive, including data on many foods such as naan bread and sweet potato as well as cod in batter. There were many times when I would have found it helpful to have the information in the printed materials in a relational database. It would have made cross-referencing so much easier the contents of this pack would make an exceptional CD-Rom.

Another slight quibble was that "vegetables" was used frequently as a category containing various nutrients with no attempt to be more specific. This was most surprising when it came to iron. Many foods which are rich in iron were given and compared, but no green vegetables were included. Given that girls need a high iron intake, and a growing number of young people, especially girls, are vegetarian, this seemed a strange omission.

There can be no doubt that the diet and life style of young people is a major cause for concern. From the anorexic to the couch potato, too many children are laying the foundations for serious ill health in adult life.

Naturally school can only do so much. The British Nutrition Foundation has its work cut out trying to re-educate the population about what we eat. This resource pack would ensure that teachers and pupils have access to the best scientific data available. At the very least, it means we cannot complain as we lie in coronary care that "No-one told me!"

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