A few months ago I attended a workshop in which the speaker discussed learning through nature. Whilst going through his presentation, he mentioned something that really caught my attention: ‘Learning through nature improves nutrition’ (Midgley, 2018). I couldn’t agree more. Now, here goes my question: Do we actually put into practice all the information we have regarding nutrition and healthy living?
Back in 2016, Italy’s Health Ministry funded OKkio alla SALUTE, a survey which was conducted with a view to understanding food trends and the overweight / obesity epidemic among Italian children in the 6-10 age group.
The survey outcomes were divided by region. Over 3,000 children took part in Lazio’s survey and the results have raised a few eyebrows:
– 23.1% of children were considered to be overweight, 9.6% obese and 1.5% extremely obese.
– 29% had what was considered an unhealthy breakfast, whilst 8% would skip it altogether.
– 21% did not eat any fruit or vegetables on a daily basis.
– 37% consumed sugary / fizzy drinks on a daily basis.
– 16% had not done any physical activity on the day prior to the survey (gym lesson, playtime or sport).
– 58% had a TV in their bedroom.
– 26% cycled or walked to school.
Promoting healthy living is a key part of PE’s curriculum. Exercising and being active is just one part. Having a balanced diet is another. Making children aware of the many advantages (and disadvantages) of the various food products we have at our disposal is very important. So what exactly is considered healthy living?
According to the Italian Paediatrics’ Society (Società Italiana di Pediatria, SIP) and Italy’s Paediatrician Federation (Federazione Italiana Medici Pediatri, FIMP), it is a combination of many things:
From a food point of view, waking up at an appropriate time is recommended so that a child can have sufficient time to enjoy a healthy breakfast: Glass of milk, cereal and a piece of fruit would be ideal. Food companies are trying to promote this blend of foods through the various adverts shown on their packaging. Many believe that time is the key for the formula to work. The idea of ‘breakfast being the most important meal of the day’ is quite clear in both organisations’ way of thinking.
A small, mid-morning snack is ideal to keep the system going: A yoghurt, piece of fruit or small sandwich should be enough to get a child through until lunch.
Fresh fruit and vegetables should be consumed throughout the day: the recommended amount is five times a day. As for fluids, water is pretty much the beverage a child should have. Doctors recommend avoiding sugary drinks because they can lead to tooth decay and do not hydrate us as effectively as water does.
Preparing food takes time and, in this day and age, we often have time constraints. So, are our children suffering due to this time issue? Several reasons prevent people from following specialists’ recommendations. Work commitments, errands and school runs are just a few of the things which take up this valuable preparation time.
As for physical activity, the organisations recommend that, if possible, children should walk or cycle to school, play outdoors or do some sort of organised sport / activity for at least an hour a day. Movement equals fun.
Due to countless technological developments, we have access to an endless virtual world. However, this ‘luxury’ can also have its repercussions and that is why the organisations recommend that children only be allowed a maximum of two hours of screen time (whether watching TV, playing a video game or just on the PC or tablet) a day. Some, on the other hand, might argue that two hours is excessive. The devices should be placed in communal areas, not in children’s rooms.
It is hard not to agree with every recommendation mentioned, but the truth is that just a few tend to be feasible or rarely get done. Do we do it on purpose? Probably not. Are trends changing? Definitely. Should we all work together to improve the statistics? Most definitely.
Where do we stand now?
The statistics presented to us a couple of years ago have improved immensely, which means that something is being done. All we can do is carry on educating our children and make them understand that leading a healthy life benefits everyone.
Midgley, Moll, ‘Enhanced learning through nature’, RISA conference, March 2018
‘OKkio alla SALUTE: risultati dell’indagine 2016’, www.epicentro.iss.it/okkioallasalute
‘Eating a balanced diet’, NHS choices: Your health, your choices, (https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Healthyeating.aspx)
‘Manifesto pediatria’, “Programma di informazione e comunicazione a sostegno degli obiettivi di Guadagnare Salute”, Ministero della Salute /CCM, in collaborazione col Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della ricerca, coordinato dall’Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Mr Canto is AHI's PE teacher.