and education are the motor forces that guide our lives. Such statement lead
us to choose the topic Health Promotion at the school (SHP) for the current
research, focussing on food habits since, after the theoretical analyses, we
were successful in detecting the impact1 that
inadequate diet habits are causing at all levels (social, economic and political)
among child population. The cases of obesity in children are getting more frequent.
In Spain, 16 out of 100 children are obese.2 Chronic
cardiovascular diseases that formerly were usually detected only in adult people
are affecting childhood.
Besides that, the current
research has been undertaken considering the cultural diversity that can be
found in classrooms nowadays. The Spanish province of Huelva, one of the first
Andalusia in immigrant population, is also putting aside its food habits and
adopting the new ones imposed by developed countries, based on fast food and
a fat-rich diet.
Our objective consists of boosting
self-responsibilities in schoolchildren and their families as far as a healthy
diet is concerned. In order to get it, we have focussed on the following specific
goals: (1) to know about previous ideas, (2) to detect educational needs, (3)
to describe the treatment of this area in the teaching-learning process, (4)
to discover whether diet habits of schoolchildren coming from other cultures
are taken into account in their own educational context, especially in the school
dining-hall, and (5) to outline an educational intervention program, paying
attention to the intercultural approach.
to reach the abovementioned objectives, we have decided to undertake a working
process organized in three stages. The first one, when the theoretical frame
was elaborated, let us arouse our interest for the importance of diet in physical,
psychic and social development of schoolchildren,4 reason
why we opted for a detailed analysis of this concrete aspect of school HP in
a second stage, where we evaluated the context aiming to outline an educational
proposal, shaping up the third and last stage.
our research we have used a mixed descriptive model, based on the design of
two kinds of instruments: qualitative and quantitative.5
Stage 1. Theoretical frame
diet habits are influenced by a great many physical, psychic, social and cultural
factors in constant evolution and change.6 In
order to get to understand this starting situation, we have taken into account
most of the perspectives that converge around this subject matter, that is at
the same time a topical, controversial one and constitutes a real social problem.
Stage 2. Assessment of the
phase of second stage, in which we evaluated environment, has been a central
one for making an outline of the researching techniques: questionnaires, children
debates and observation. In this stage, known as roaming, we intended
fundamentally to explore the people and places with whom we were sharing our
work and to obtain data on the reality subject of study. Following up, we will
summarize some of the main conclusions we got, starting from the data obtained
during this roaming stage:
- Firstly, our studies reveal a change
in the eating habits,7
for example skipping breakfast and the consumption of fats, sweets, industrial
pastry and fast food to excess, and a decrease in the ingestion of fruit, vegetables,
legume and fish, principally.
- With regards to the educational curriculum
of pre-school8,9 and
primary education10,11 in
Andalusia, this healthy diet and interculturality are only envisaged from transversality,
that is, from the education in values.12 In
pre-school education, besides transversality, these factors are included in
two out of the four contents that make up the field of "Identity and personal
At a national level, in the new normative
that establishes the curriculum in pre-school education (Real Decreto 114/2004,
23 January),13 a
well-balanced diet and elemental guidelines of coexistence are regarded as two
of the key goals. We hope they will be developed and carried out in the autonomous
region of Andalusia, enjoying enough and effective resources. It is also necessary
that such objectives will be prime objectives at all educative levels, not only
in pre-school education. In this sense, as far as LOE is concerned, we are referring
to the new Educative Law;14 in
pre-school education we go on working bearing globality in mind, but in Primary
education, these contents become part of a subject called Education for Civic
- However, these contents hardly have a reflection on teachers'
continuous education15 neither
in initial education, because it is not a core or compulsory education, only
optional, and leaves the teacher the responsibility of being educated in that
field. We hope LOE will come along with the incorporation of this new
subject also in the teacher's formation and not only in the school curriculum.
Regarding the role of institutions (Townhall, Spanish Office of Health and Education),
they offer programs with healthy diet and intercultural education as their main
goals, although their subject matters have never been mixed. We will describe
some of the assessments about these programs: they are only put into practice
if the educative centre requires them; this assessment is insufficient, results
will be influenced by the pedagogical approach applied; they barely devote a
part of their concrete actions to families or to the school dining hall.
We think it necessary to incorporate, through these programs, a proposal of
activities coordinated with health centres, since they can make up a union link
between the school and families, in order to warrant the efficiency of Health
- Regarding intercultural education, we have to point
out that immigrant students are growing increasingly in the Andalusian region
of Huelva, what has caused educative programs to pay attention to priority needs
required by schools, that is, communication, so taking part by using Spanish-learning
programs exclusively. So human and didactic resources intended to develop a
comprehensive education for students coming from other cultures are necessary.
Finally, we would like to highlight the Instructions issued by the Regional
Government of Andalusia (2004)16 regarding
the implementation of a normative regulating the organization and functioning
of school dining halls, that consider the dining hall as an educative service
that completes the educational institution work, that is why it should be integrated
in the educational project of the teaching center and care should be taken trying
not to turn it into a food service.
Well, once this
roaming stage was finished, we got enough data to go into the context
assessment in greater depth through the implementation of questionnaires, children
debates and the observation techniques.
of the study population responds to two main justifications. Firstly, an adequate
diet is essential for everyone, but especially for children due to two basic
reasons: on the one hand, because of the increase of caloric, protein and some
micronutrient needs indispensable for this growth period, and on the other hand,
childhood is the period that shapes the base for habit-acquisition. Secondly,
inside school, the dining hall is the educational space par excellence
for the praxis and habit-acquisition. Moreover, it favours social relationships,
as it is the best means to know the diet habits of every culture that coexist
in the educational center.
Central Techniques of the
research. Questionnaires. The abovementioned aspects motivated our decision
of projecting the research into public schools that offer a dining hall service,
focussing in the level of pre-school and the two first years of primary education.
We also had into account that these schools had children coming from other cultures
among their students and that they were relatively close to each other. So we
decided to select the public schools of the city of Huelva and its surrounding
area, and we took in addition to this population three more schools in the coastal
area, since they are the public schools in the province of Huelva that receive
the highest number of students coming from other cultures. So, during the academic
year 2004/2005, the dining hall service was offered by 85 educational centers
in the province of Huelva, and we have selected 29 out of them for the application
of this technique, carrying out a trial test previous to the delivery of questionnaires.
Three questionnaires were delivered, one intended for pre-school and first two
years of primary education teaching staff, the second one for the people responsible
for the dining hall in these centers and the last one for the students' fathers
Children debates. These
debates have been organized following the methodology of the discussion group,
although we do not dare to call them so regarding the age of the participating
subjects. Four groups of debate were established in two educational centers
of the selected schools for the implementation of questionnaires; so two study
groups were carried out in each school, one for pre-school and a second one
for primary school (first two years). For this purpose, we chose a school in
town and other in the surrounding area, in such a way that both centers would
have a good number of students coming from different cultures.
Observation. We consider
it necessary to explore diet habits in the life of the educational center, mainly
in the hidden curriculum of the school, because values have as much or
even more representation in what is transmitted through a real coexistence in
school; the observation instruments used for this purpose where the following
ones: taking field notes, photographs and the analysis of the documents, in
this case, textbooks and the dining hall menus.
observation techniques have also been taken into practice in all the 29 public
schools in the town of Huelva and its surrounding area that offer a dining hall
service. We include here two schools that were excluded for the implementation
of questionnaires, because they showed certain limitations in the development
of such instrument. However, there was no problem in integrating them in the
context assessment by means of the observation techniques. So, the selection
of schools for observation increased to the number of 31 schools in all.
Conclusion: Once we have
evaluated all the data results, we will show some of the main conclusions reached
regarding the different aspects on study.
School dining halls
There has been an increase in the students having lunch in the school dining
hall, and many of them have also breakfast in the school morning class.
As a consequence, more services like this are being created in schools, sometimes
rather quickly by request of families, using for this purpose, the scarce economic
funding they had.
- Some families claim for an improvement
in dining hall services, such as serving less fried food and "elaborated"
food in menus and a stronger watchfulness of students' eating habits. It
is also necessary to train the instructors and to increase the number of collaborators,
to inform families about the eating behaviour of the children, to elaborate
balanced and varied menus in the design of which nutritionists will have to
take part, to go through cooking techniques, to supply these services with ventilated
spaces far from the toilets and next to basins in order to make hand-washing
easier, to foster a Mediterranean diet and a higher involvement of the people
responsible for the dining hall. In short, we are talking about aspects already
regulated in the Plan de Calidad de Comedores17 (quality
dining-hall plan), el Plan de Apoyo a las Familias18 (Family
support plan) and all the legislation controlling the organization and functioning
of the dining-hall services, but they are not taken into practice.
In this sense, some of the people responsible for this service do not agree
with the educative labour carried out in the dining-hall, they put forward reasons
such us the lack of training in collaborators and an excessive number of three-years-old
children having lunch, that claim all the attention for themselves.
It is also necessary to have into account the cultural diversity in the dining-hall,
not only in the classroom, reason why they have to foster knowledge, respect
and tolerance for the eating habits of those students belonging to other cultures
and not to limit themselves to serve an alternative kind of meat to the Muslim
students who demand so.
- Other service that has
to be submitted to further watchfulness is the Morning Classroom, where
breakfast is served to students; most of them also have lunch in the school
dining-hall, so there is a great number of students who have the main daily
meals in school, so it is important to control the functioning of these services.
The education at home is essential19 for
the acquisition and maintenance of healthy eating habits.
Mothers are normally those who take care of the nutrition of children and it
can be said that more than half of the mothers in the population on study have
a job, so many of them take the lack of time as one of the main problems in
making difficult the implementation of these eating habits.
Only some mothers and fathers (36,6%) prepare the rest of the meals of the day
according to the lunch the children have taken in the school dining-hall in
order to offer them a balanced and varied diet. With regard to those who fail
to do so, most of the cases are due to the lack of time, some others do not
know how to do it, and the rest is a matter of ignorance of what their children
are eating in the dining-hall.
- Most of the students
do not take a complete breakfast,20
something that should be taken seriously. It would be advisable to get up a
little earlier and to have breakfast together with the family, something that
it is normally done only during the weekend.
regard to the students, they have a rather scarce knowledge about healthy nutrition.
On the other hand, almost half of fathers and mothers (40,2%) consider they
need information on how to educate their children in order to acquire the right
a deep influence on this population. However, we observe a great enthusiasm
when they talk about the pizzas and hamburgers their own mums cook for them,
and the same occurs with other meals.
- This fact
demonstrates that it is possible to fight against commercial brands, fostering
homemade meals and even more if they are allowed to participate in the elaboration
of meals, they will enjoy them much more, so they will learn more and at the
same time they will get a great deal of autonomy.
What schools are especially worried about is breakfast, so in many centers only
the food that makes up a healthy breakfast is allowed. Some teachers do not
find a support in families, saying that they only tend to comfort, they attach
very little value to diet and they only follow the advice during the first days,
being forgotten shortly after, so they have to insist constantly on it.
Moreover, the existing resources and methodology to deal with a healthy diet
in school seem to cause difficulties.
- Most of educative
activities refer to detailed activities, not from transversality; Mediterranean
diet is not promoted, and the intervention involving families is a scarce one.
A part of the teaching staff (34,1%) admits they need information and specific
training on how to educate students in order to acquire healthy diet habits.
They demand more information on certain aspects, such as family participation,
diet habits in other cultures, the modification of eating habits, nutrition
and dietetics, diseases related with nutrition and the didactics of this topic.
conclusion, in the schools selected, no comprehensive education including our
subject of study is performed. It seems that an especial emphasis is placed
on the ground of nutrition including school hours, that is, midmorning breakfast.
All in all, teachers know about the importance of nutrition for health, but
they consider that health workers, management and families must also collaborate;
at the same time, these latter groups think it is also teachers' responsibility.
Health-centers. In most
of Primary Health Care Centers no collaboration initiatives exist, and the scarce
collaboration (8%) consists of specific and isolated actions that will probably
have little result if coherence and coordination with the school pursuing a
common goal is not transmitted.22
As far as an intercultural perspective is concerned,23 both
students of Spanish origin and those coming from other countries do not know
about the eating habits of their own culture and those of the rest of their
schoolmates, so no problems have been detected regarding the respect for these
customs among students.
- Most fathers and mothers
(90,1%) assess the necessity of coexistence among children and the relationship
of their kids with schoolmates born in other countries from an early age, favouring
this way their personal enrichment in different fields.
On the other hand, however, it is worrying the fact that in some cases (12,1%) xenophobia, lack of solidarity or intolerance, especially towards Muslim
culture have been detected.
- Many of the individuals
polled (77,3%) also believe that knowing the eating habits of schoolmates coming
from other cultures would be beneficiary for their children.
As in students, in the rest of the educational community we can observe how
families and teachers show ignorance about these traditions, and some of them
show some interest to know them, probably because they come from neighbourhoods
with higher cultural diversity.
with most of the authors, we consider that one of the most relevant conclusions
we have reached is that the participation of the community, trying to get them
involved in the educational projects on healthy diet is the most difficult point
to achieve, but it is completely necessary in order to get satisfactory results
in the long term. The performances of school SHP must be multidisciplinary and
starting from all fields, implying the whole society, especially families in
Stage 3. Design of the educational
we reach the third stage, in which we pretend to show the internal structure
of the educational proposal on healthy diet from an intercultural approach so
it can include the most representative requests posed by the population on study
during the former stage. There are quite interesting materials24,25 that
have been drawn up by the management containing a series of teaching units devoted
to healthy nutrition, so these already designed resources can serve as a complement
to the educational performance program we are introducing in the current article.
Working process. We have
designed a common project that should be started by the management, so constant
cooperation is needed among the different institutions (Town halls, provincial
health office and provincial education office). This project includes the execution
of an educational program using television. With regard to the recipients of
this project, it is intended to promote healthy nutrition among childhood in
the province of Huelva and among the rest of the educational community. The
actions integrating the project are listed following up: (1) diagnosis and treatment
in cases of malnutrition in children,26 (2)
advice and supervision of school dining-halls, (3) formation of teachers, (4)
marketing campaign, and (5) TV programming.
up, our interest is mainly placed on the possibility of raising awareness and
formation among the educational community, so childhood can enjoy healthy and
amusing nutrition habits, starting from tolerance and taking advantage of the
cultural diversity27 we
are living with.
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