Edinburgh and Glasgow School Children Educated About Nutrition in Fight Against Diabetes

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Adapted from “New Obesity Project to Target Edinburgh School Children”, by Catie Guitart

Like most of the developed world, Scotland is experiencing an obesity epidemic. According to a 2010 government study, only the United States and Mexico have higher levels of obesity.  In 2008, 26.8% of adults in Scotland were obese and 65.1% were overweight; for children the corresponding rates were 15.1% and 31.7%.  It is predicted that by the year 2030, 40% of the population will be obese.  The government has developed a Route Map to counter the problem head on and prevention is central to the strategy; establishing life-long habits and skills for positive eating behavior through early life interventions is critical.  One major milestone is to reduce children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) to a healthy range by 2018; schools, non-profit organizations and the private sector have a role to play and are pulling together to help achieve this goal.  

Two organizations, Diabetes UK Scotland and Edinburgh International Science Festival, have joined forces to offer schools the opportunity to participate in Live for It!,  an interactive and fun program of workshops and activities designed to tackle childhood obesity and highlight the possible risks of developing Type 2 diabetes in later life.  The program also aims at raising awareness about Type 1 diabetes, an immunological, chronic disease that can occur at any age but is most often diagnosed in children, adolescents or young adults. Though not caused by overeating or lack of exercise, Type 1 diabetes can be managed by nutrition and exercise.  Live for It! aligns with the National School Curriculum for Excellence in Health and Wellbeing and will initially be delivered to schools in areas of high deprivation in Edinburgh and Glasgow before moving on to other areas of Scotland.

Cook for It! –part of the Live for it! project—  was launched at Sighthill Primary school this May and the students loved it.  Eileen Littlewood, Head Teacher, says that the month-long program consists of four 90-minute sessions during which students explore topics including diet, cooking, digestion, diabetes and how the body uses energy. “The program introduces students to all aspects of healthy eating, including the scientific and enjoyment aspects of it, in a fun hands-on way.  We are in the third week and so far the students have really enjoyed it; they come out of the sessions saying that it was brilliant.”  She adds that the school also insists on the importance of physical activity with every student getting two hours of Physical Education a week.

After brief information sessions, where pupils learn the function of glucose and how the digestive system works, they are shown the ingredients to create delicious and healthy meals –such as couscous with cherry tomatoes, peppers, corn and spring onions.  The children also learn different cutting techniques –such as the cutting bridge, to easily cut food in half, and the claw, which ensures that no injuries are caused if the knife slips.  Then they are ready to go to their workstations to prepare the meal themselves.

The final session of the program, sponsored by Scotmid Cooperative, takes the form of a fun contest to test the students’ knowledge.  Malcolm Brown, Head of Corporate Communications for Scotmid, says that the organization welcomes the opportunity to help young people in disadvantaged areas learn some valuable cooking skills, which they will need later in life.  “In order to prevent or control ill health, obesity and the onset of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, young people need to know how to prepare meals that are nutritionally balanced and inexpensive.  We focus on diabetes because it is such a misunderstood disease.”