Background: There is no organized school meal in Norway and children bring packed lunch from home. Most schools offer a milk prescription program (parent paid) and some schools offer a fruit prescription program (parent paid). Norwegian Guidelines for school meals are launched in 2015. There are socio economic differences among children, and the prevalence of overweight (including obese) among children is 15-20 %, but higher in lower socio-economic classes. The School Meal Project was developed based on the assumption that a healthy free school meal may influence children to eat a meal rich in healthy nutrients and thereby contribute to healthy eating habits – which in turn may contribute to prevention of childhood obesity.
Aims: The overall purpose of The School Meal Project was to evaluate the effect of a free healthy school meal every day for one year on meal pattern, diatary habits at school, learning environment, motivation for learning and weight status among children 10-12 years old.
Methods: The design was a non-randomized intervention with a control group and qualitative in-depth interviews. Children at the age of 10-12 were recruited in two elementary schools in Aust-Agder county, Norway. A total of 164 children participated, 55 in the intervention group and 109 in the control group. One of the parents of each child was invited to participate. At baseline (August 2014) children and parents answered a questionnaire, and the children’s weight, height and waist circumference were measured. The intervention consisted of serving a free cold school meal every day for one year, consisting of whole grain bread, spread, fruit and vegetables according to the dietary guidelines. The measurements were repeated at follow-up 1 (January 2015) and at follow-up 2 (June 2015). Qualitative interviews were performed in fall 2015 with the intervention group to examine feasibility and possible barriers. Further, interviews were also conducted 5 years post-intervenion.
The project has resulted in 7 master theses and 6 published papers. One main finding from the project was that serving a free school meal for one year increased children’s intake of healthy foods, especially among children with lower socio-economic status. This study may contribute to promoting healthy eating and suggests a way forward to reduce health inequalities among school children. Further, we did in-depth interviews with the students in the intervention group and their teachers right after the intervention and also 5 years post intervention. Our analysis suggests that the free school meal may influence healthy behaviors not only at the individual level but also at the social-, physical-, and macro-levels. Methodological limitations, including self-selection bias, should be considered when interpreting our findings.
We concluded that this study provides unique insights into the social benefits for students of receiving free school meals. Our findings illustrate the potential of free school meals: eating healthy foods, sharing a meal together, and interaction between students and teachers at mealtime, to promote health, learning, and equality.
The teaching in the Food and health subject aims to contribute to promote a healthy lifestyle, gain insight and skills in critically choosing and reflecting on food and meals and stimulate the students to prepare food. When looking into the structure of today's food and health lessons, it mainly consists of practical work with cooking. Comparing this to the aim of the subject, what seems like a common challenge, is to nourish the student's creative abilities and foster critical thinking. Another challenge is to provide children training in making conscious decisions and to motivate them to comply to a healthy lifestyle.
LifeLab- Food and health is a three-year long project (2017-2020). The objective of LifeLab is to develop and evaluate different student active activities for the Food and health subject with the aim at increasing children's knowledge and understanding of the correlation between food and health.
The study uses multiple methods. First, a questionnaire was developed and distributed to all primary and lower secondary schools in Norway. 1170 food and health teachers completed the questionnaire regarding different aspects of the subject. The results showed that most teachers (71%) reported using learning activities where students were encouraged to use their senses, followed by exploratory/experimental activities (65%), digital tools (56%) and flipped classroom (14%). Lack of equipment, non-optimal premises and economic factors were most important barriers to good teaching in FH. All teachers highlighted engaged teachers as most important for learning.
Food and health teachers use of the different learning activities investigated in this study varied. Engaged teachers are important for learning, whereas lack of equipment, non-optimal premises and economic factors are barriers to good teaching. Further, we found that 49% of the teachers at the secondary school level had formal Food and Health education despite national requirements. Also, a higher proportion of the formally educated group showed more contentment with teaching and reported to a greater extent mastering teaching (p≤0.001) compared to the non-educated group.
Secondly, focus group and individual interviews was carried out among school leaders and food and health teachers and students having or just finishing their year of food and health. The aim of the interviews was to gain insight in what challenges there are and what wishes there are to consider when developing the activities. Finally, classroom video and audio recording of the activities were conducted to evaluate the activities which was developed in collaboration with teacher students. We found that the students’ learning process was stimulated while they engaged with the learning tasks by working in groups, by being active in interaction, dialogue, communication and collaboration, and by being given the opportunity to listen and argue. Language was used as a pedagogical tool and was central in the students’ learning process. Both the students and their teachers valued the active and practical outline of the learning tasks. Through interviews, we explored teachers’ and students’ perspectives and experiences of current classroom practices in Food and Health. Our findings suggest there is a mismatch between curriculum guidelines and teaching practices. Although teachers understood the benefits of nutrition education, practical cooking activities
were prioritised. Three key themes were identified; students and teachers value cooking and limited time, which both explain this mismatch from the perspectives of students and teachers, and pedagogical solutions to resolve the mismatch, which summarises novel learning activities suggested by students and teachers as a solution for this mismatch.
Schools are an important arena for public health actions that aim to prevent lifestyle-related diseases, promote good food habits, health and learning, and decrease differences in food habits and health related to socio-economic and ethnic differences.
This research project aims to determine whether school lunches improve the overall healthiness of children’s diets and learning conditions and explores the children’s main concerns regarding school lunches in a Nordic context.
The knowledge generated by the collaboration can be used to strengthen both practices and policies in a Nordic arena. The project will also help to develop innovative methodologies within educational research related to food and nutrition.
Funding: This project is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers (2013-2016; with data-publishing on-going), within the sub-project "Nutrition, Learning and Health" under the Nordic globalisation initiative "Health and Welfare".
Interdisciplinary competencies are essential in society. Strikingly, development of interdisciplinary teaching and assessment skills is in its infancy in Norwegian teacher training, with fragmented learning outcomes for student teachers and their future students. The recent subject renewal (LK20) in Norwegian primary and lower secondary schools has highlighted this flaw.
The Beans & Fractions (B&F) project acts on this relevance gap. We will develop and implement an interdisciplinary educational entrepreneurship (EE) model in two large teacher training institutions and practice schools and research to foster interdisciplinary skills in teacher education and school the development, implementation experiences and effects of the model using mixed methods approach. We aim to prepare future teachers with interdisciplinary teaching and assessment tools for equipping their students with Health and Life skills (HLS), in line with lifelong learning and the push for deep-learning.
Food & health (i.e. home economics) and Mathematics have a unique opportunity to develop important interdisciplinary skills within food and personal economy, in a public health perspective. Our model includes an innovation week at campus. Interdisciplinary student teachers teams will develop interdisciplinary teaching and assessment plans, testing in schools, and return for a reflection day and further development. The B&F project will significantly advance the field of interdisciplinary teacher training by using EE as a studentactive and innovative learning strategy of HLS. A group of experienced interdisciplinary researchers with track-record of implementing EE will co-create with two school owners and an EE organisation. Teacher educations and practice schools are stakeholders. Student teachers are end-users.
A future goal post-project is to get a transferable teacher training model for other school subjects and interdisciplinary topics. This matches the target of rejuvenating teacher education by propelling the teacher education into the 21st century.
Children and young people need energy and nourishment for growth and development, and established habits track into adulthood. Children's eating habits are often influenced by family, friends and accessibility. Promotion of these determinants may influence children’s possibilites to choose healthy alternatives. According to the Education Act, students have the right to a good physical and psychosocial school environment that promotes health, well-being and learning. Traditionally, there is a perception that the school is an arena for learning, and that the responsibility for diet belongs to the parents. But health can provide a basis for good learning and vice versa.
The school meal can be important to reduce social differences, may improve diet and promote current and future health, better energy and concentration. The school meal can also provide an arena for well-being and equality. Healthy eating habits at school can therefore have a great public health benefit. At the same time, more research is needed related to free school meals and especially towards learning.
In this project we aim to investigate i) the effects of a free school meal on various well-being and learning environment outcomes, ii) experiences of a free school meal, and iii) the connection between breakfast and reading literacy, we contribute to increasing knowledge about the importance of food for learning.
Obesity in childhood and adolescence is a public health problem and to reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity, political interventions are necessary. We are in a unique position to measure the effect of a natural experiment in Norway. In the period 2007-2014, free fruit was offered to school children in some schools, but not in others. By using information about height and weight from the Norwegian Child Growth- and Young Growth Study by the national institute of public health (NIPH), we can estimate the effect of a free fruit program in schools on the incidence of overweight and obesity.
To assess the effect as well as possible, we examined different approaches and growth models to check for confounding factors. Weight is described by height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) based on the Norwegian Child Growth- and Young Growth Study. The models are intended to evaluate the effect of the free school fruit program on childhood growth and obesity. Second, we will estimate the potential differences in the effect of the free fruit program on childhood overweight and obesity according to gender, geographical factors, their parent’s socioeconomic status, and ethnicity.
The project is funded by an allocation from the Research Council of Norway.
Funding: University of Agder
This project is a collaboration between researchers from three Nordic countries; Denmark, Sweeden and Norway, including three NGO partners. UCL in Odense, UiA and Ørebro university collaborates with «Landslaget for mat og helse» (NO), «skolematsakademien» (SE) and “LOMA skolene” (DK).
The overall purpose of the project 'LEARNFOOD' is for the partners to exchange and co-create innovative, pedagogical and didactical approaches to school food in a professional learning network. A scientific anthology is also in the process of being written.
The purpose is based on a social-constructivist conceptual framework that facilitates the establishment of a joint LEARNFOOD network, which from a horizontal and cross-sectoral perspective can contribute to cross-country educational knowledge.
Furthermore, the purpose integrates initiatives to support progress and education for sustainable development (ESD) in accordance with the UN sustainable development goals.
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