A diet based on unhealthy food is taking its toll on some Australian youngsters.
A diet based on unhealthy food is taking its toll on some Australian youngsters. Nick Falconer

New school of thought on obesity

SHOULD high school home economics classes or home become the battleground in the fight against obesity?

A home economics expert believes food literacy – food labelling, preparation, and cooking – should form part of the core curriculum to get the health of future generations on track.

Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University Professor Donna Pendergast said informal learning was not enough to get young people to make the right food choices. She said UK government reforms to teach food knowledge and skills to students aged seven to 16 were commendable.

But University of the Sunshine Coast nutrition expert Doctor Fiona Pelly believes educating children about health eating should begin long before high school.

Dr Pelly said healthy eating should start at home because children were heavily influenced by their environment.

“You might be doing a sport at school but the children who are really into it usually come from families which are involved or support that sport,” she said.

“The influence of their environment is important.”

Dr Pelly said the success of healthy-eating education would be more successful if reinforced in the home environment.

“It’s harder to introduce new flavours and tastes to a child or adolescent if they’re not experiencing it at home,” she said

The success of television programs such as MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook demonstrated a definite interest in food among the general public, she said.

But it was hard to gauge if the shows had stimulated young viewers to get interested in cooking good food for good health, or encouraged their families to do so.

“We’ve got so many cooking shows on TV at the moment but a lot of them are more on the complicated end. Do we have cooking shows on how to beat an egg when you don’t have a whisk?” she said.

Dr Pelly said that on the positive side, someone’s eating habits could be “reprogrammed” and young people were mouldable.

“Often, if you’re a young adult and you travel, that’s when you experience different flavours, different foods, different ingredients, and that’s the start of opening up different flavour experiences,” she said.

Prof Pendergast said school-based studies in food and healthy eating would work in conjunction with learning outside the classroom

“Mandating the learning of food-related competencies in the school curriculum also complements informal learning, such as in the home,” she said

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