Schools desperately try to be more than just about providing education and knowledge for exams. Despite my assertion that many school systems are little more than exam factories, I will say that many do give it a fair bash at trying to make sure that your kids leave not just educated, but also wiser about the world and with some life skills.
Learning something, rather than just being able to stream out endless facts and pieces of information, is obviously going to get people further in life. Similarly, school should be a place for some of the important lessons in life, but not in a way that interferes with things that parents want to bring into lives from home. For example, there can be conflicts about homework habits, independent learning and, more practically, healthy living and eating.
Schools are always quick to take on the role of mentor in this case – it’s something that will help a school’s reputation and it’s clear that teachers know this. If they can help on different issues rather than just being at the chalkboard all the time, it’ll bring them in good stead with the student. It explains partially why most schools have councillors and the like, the more they can help, the better.
Another thing that schools like to do is push home healthy eating and making sure that diets are contributing to kids’ learning, rather than being a hindrance. This isn’t just about avoiding too many sugary foods (remember those ‘brush your teeth’ things you did?!), it’s also about learning about different food groups and what to avoid – you get that frequently in the food technology classes.
Now it seems that things are going to get a little more complex, thanks to news from various pieces of scientific research. The main focuses seem to aim at obesity and salt as two things to look at. Whilst this is yet to be seen in schools, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it in the near future.
The obesity problem
Data from 6,000 adolescent girls were looked at by researchers from four different universities across Scotland. The results of the research indicated that those were classified as obese at the age of 11 achieved lower results over the next five years than their ‘healthier’ peers. In the core subjects of Maths, English and Science, the difference was almost a grade.
The study took into account different mitigating factors but did not find them significant enough to affect the outcome of the study. Ultimately, the limitations of the study meant that the cause as to why this is has yet to be determined. However, it also showed that the link between obesity and academic achievement in boys was more difficult to ascertain.
Eating healthily has long been linked to good performance in school – we’ve even written about different types of foods when it comes to exam preparation. However, I get the impression this is pointing towards the long term diet of children rather than just what you decide to eat on the morning of your big exam. Therefore I think we really do need to see the follow-up as to the reasons why this happens in the long term.
What does worry me is how this is added to the advice that schools try and give out. For example, in May 2012 the All Party Parliamentary Group recommended that schools look at body image in lessons and try and deal with some of the negative attitudes towards different shapes and sizes. It was almost two years ago, and I have heard from people that these conversations have made their way into classes – mainly through the breaking down of stereotypes and the encouragement of a positive and healthy lifestyle.
Don’t you think that it could be a bit confusing to tell people that ‘it’s ok to look the way you are’ and then to say ‘obesity could have a negative effect on your work’? It’s something that will have to be added in very carefully.
The salty side of things
According to unrelated research, 70% of children eat more salt than is recommended, with boys eating more than girls. The problem is more serious as you get further through childhood – something that the report clearly noted by saying that the excess (that is, the extra above the recommended amount) increased 2.5 times between 13-17 years than between 5-6.
This is something that can be looked at in the classroom, especially in those food technology lessons. I can remember salt being looked upon rather unfavourably, and I was in those lessons nearly 10 years ago. Maybe these new findings might push people into gear even more
The only worrying thing I would take about all of this was some of the reaction. OK, so we eat too much salt as a nation but is that really news to us? I don’t think so particularly. For me, it was the reaction, with politicians calling on the food industry to cut the salt they use. Even the Consensus Action on Salt & Food mentioned avoiding packaged and restaurant foods – again a bit of a dig at the food industry.
Don’t blame the food industry too much, blame the people who don’t think about these things when they look for their particular products of choice. Educating people about the sort of choices they need to make is far better than forcing the food industry to make the decisions for us. Ultimately, what are we going to learn otherwise?
For me, the government is meaning well with the recommendations about salt but I think educating people about the choices they have to make is far better than just regulating things. If the education works, that’ll drive the change in attitude and then the regulation will surely follow later. Just changing things without telling people why or what they need to do as individuals won’t change a lot. We’ll be healthier, yes. But we won’t know why.
As for the obesity/body image issue… well, it’s something else where a balance will have to be maintained. As you focus more on one, there potentially will be a problem with the other. You sadly can’t please everyone.