It's time to cherish and nourish all children equally
In less than two centuries, Ireland has gone from famine to feast. The overconsumption of unhealthy foods has led to an obesity epidemic that threatens the next generation with a lifetime of diet-related diseases. As a nation whose constitution promises to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’, how are we to stop the spread?
The Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG) would like to see the government:
The IFWG also believes that:
Below is a brief overview of the challenges and potential solutions accompanied by a list of resources and references to further reading. We hope this will be of use in schools and at home to support and supplement learning, and to journalists and editors exploring this area.
While food education has improved, critical thinking skills and cooking experience are lacking. Most young people know that they need to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and that processed and sugary foods aren’t good for them, yet childhood obesity levels continue to rise in tandem with a decline in kitchen skills, an increase in food scares and an often conflicting array of health claims about foods.
Happily, numerous initiatives already exist, but their reach and effectiveness vary. At primary level, food education happens through the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and includes a range of programmes. The primary curriculum also ensures that children are taught about regular exercise and making wise food choices for a healthy and balanced diet.
But this is not enough. Primary and secondary schools must become more actively engaged in promoting the importance of healthy lifestyles, including providing children with the necessary skills to choose fresh, nutritious, wholesome food. Likewise, parents and guardians must be supported further in navigating these choices and accessing appropriate food.
Through nutrition education and a healthy food environment, schools can impart life-long skills for healthy eating and help give children the best start in life. A school food policy (or lack thereof) directly affects students’ health, learning and lifetime wellness. Many schools have healthy lunch policies, but the IFWG would like to see all schools adopt such a policy and for that policy to be supported by broader national policy.
Given the complexity of the issue and the range of policy domains across which it intersects, there is a need for the government and schools to provide coherent guidance on this urgent matter. A successful initiative needs to be set within a national framework, which will ensure policy coherence. A steering committee should comprise all relevant stakeholders, including appropriate government departments (education, health, agriculture, environment, social and family affairs), statutory bodies, farming organisations, teachers’ unions and community and voluntary organisations.
The costs associated with the implementation of such an initiative must be viewed in the context of the high and ever-rising costs of inaction and the benefits that will accrue from making a lasting, positive contribution to the health and welfare of our nation’s children. This initiative could be integrated into existing educational programmes, such as the SPHE programme, or the new 100-hour course developed as part of the new Junior Cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to address the importance of food and diet in making healthy lifestyle choices.
Food skills are among the most valuable life skills you can learn. Every child should learn about food – where it comes from and how to grow it, how to cook it and how it affects their health.
Guild chairperson Aoife Carrigy says, ‘On this centenary anniversary of the Easter 1916 rising, the Guild encourages the state to deliver on its constitutional promise to “cherish all the children of the nation equally” in the context of childhood nutrition and food education, from mandatory nutrition education to hands-on programmes where children can touch and taste food. We cannot leave the critical task of teaching nutrition to our children to chance.’
There is a variety of material regarding food and nutrition that can be used in schools and at home to support and supplement learning.
FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES
Note to editors: This document is a condensed version of a comprehensive summation written by Guild member Anne Marie Carroll, which is available on request.
Links of Interest
Not the full Irish - Katy McGuinness explores the true origins of 'Irish' foods.
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