Eating :: Teaching good eating habits to reduce malnutrition and diet-related diseases

Educating school children in healthy nutrition is one of the most effective strategies for overcoming malnutrition and chronic diet-related diseases but has been neglected far too long, FAO said today.

The UN agency announced the publication of a new comprehensive guide for curriculum development addressing nutrition education in primary schools.

“What many people don’t realize is that it is not only the amount of food, but the quality of a diet that has a critical effect on children’s growth, health and learning capacity. Eating is not just a biological process, it depends on learned habits and perceptions, on the cultural and social environment. This is why nutrition education is so important,” said Ezzeddine Boutrif, Director, FAO Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division.

Good nutrition education can make children aware of how to achieve a nourishing diet with limited means; how to prepare and handle food safely and how to avoid food-related risks.

As future parents, they will know about the benefits of breastfeeding and complementary feeding, and be able to educate their children to follow a diet that is well balanced and of good quality.

“Teaching nutrition in schools can help reduce the costly impact of nutrition related diseases of future generations. Governments should make nutrition education a priority,” Boutrif added.

Bad eating habits on the rise

Chronic diet-related diseases, such as excess weight and obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, are not restricted to rich countries. They are increasing around the globe as a result of new lifestyles and eating habits.

Globally, 1.6 billion adults are overweight, and at least 400 million are obese. Two out of three overweight and obese people now live in low- and middle-income countries, with the vast majority in emerging markets and transition economies, according to the World Health Organization.

”Certainly, hunger and undernourishment remain a major problem for some 820 million people in developing countries that do not have the means to buy or produce sufficient good quality food,” said Peter Glasauer, FAO nutrition education expert.

“But globalization and economic development have introduced new foods and altered dietary habits and lifestyle patterns in many developing countries as well. Migration from rural communities to urban areas, for example, is on the rise with less and less people producing their own food and the majority depending entirely on commercial food supply. Nutrition education in primary schools is an effective way of promoting good nutrition,” he added.

The new guide

The new FAO guide for curriculum development is aimed at ministry officials, teachers, nutrition experts, health professionals and others involved in the planning of nutrition education programmes for primary schools. Although it also contains a section on the basics of healthy nutrition, the guide is not a teaching aid for nutrition education itself.

It is a resource package comprising three elements: a book that explains the key ideas and processes in nutrition, health and education; a set of worksheets taking the user through the entire planning exercise; a classroom curriculum chart, providing learning objectives for nutrition education in primary schools in developing countries.

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