Dimbleby Report recommends whole-school approach to food education

The National Food Strategy, published on Wednesday, is packed with sobering facts: four of the top five risk factors for early death and ill-health are related to diet; the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, higher than Germany, Spain, France and Italy; high body mass index (BMI) and poor diets account for many more deaths than alcohol and drug abuse. As a consequence, the health impacts of poor diet, caseloads of specific diet-related diseases and the cost of treating diet-related disease are all soaring. The headlines are (predictably) focusing on a proposed sugar and salt tax, but the strategy also focuses on the importance of education as a way of changing our food and cooking culture. In particular, it includes a call for a concerted whole-school approach to food education that is exactly in line with the aims and ambitions of Life-Based Learning.

The independent report was commissioned in 2019 by the government and was led by Henry Dimbleby. It outlines four main objectives:

  • Escaping the junk-food cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reducing diet-related inequality
  • Making the best use of the land and protecting the environment
  • Creating a long-term shift in the UK’s food culture

The report has important things to say on the damage that our eating habits are doing to the environment as well as to our health:

  • The food we eat accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions
  • The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife
  • It is also the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after the energy industry

One of the report’s most eye-catching recommendations is an ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative in schools for all children aged 3 to 18, in partnership with a new Office of Health Promotion. It says that food education remains “a second-class subject” and proposes curriculum changes starting with sensory education in early years.

In June we wrote that food education and healthy eating — knowledge, knowhow and practice — must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 we wrote that “the campaign to combat obesity needs to start with schools — not just as an add-on to the curriculum, but central to it … Only by direct focus and attention in the education of the young can there be any hope of slimming down the population.”

We later highlighted a National Audit Office report warning that the government’s target of halving childhood obesity by 2030 is likely to be missed. We wrote that we owe it to our children to give them “the knowledge and skills they need to grow up leading healthy lives.”

We will look in more detail in a blog next week at the report’s specific curriculum recommendations. Here it is worth highlighting the report’s call for a whole-school approach to food:

Schools should be encouraged to adopt a ‘whole-school approach’ to food. This means integrating food into the life of the school: the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.

Quoted from Recommendation 3 of the National Food Strategy Recommendations in Full document

This proposal is exactly in line with the ambition and approach of Life-Based Learning — an integrated approach that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next. Instead, Life-Based Learning reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes and, in addition, mobilises the entire resources of the school and the community to focus on life’s key priorities and challenges.

National Food Strategy

Click to visit the official website

Empowering Children to Eat Healthily

A recent blog on food education in primary schools

Life-Based Learning

Click to learn more about the life-based approach to learning

Image at the head of this article by David Cortez from Pixabay

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