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Why provide opportunities for food and nutrition education?

Nutritious food choices support all dimensions of health. The action-oriented approach used in this book will help students develop health-promoting food-related behaviours in their everyday lives.

School programmes should promote safe food-handling practices and assist students to develop the skills they need to prepare food safely. Food-borne illness is most often caused by unsafe handling of food during preparation. Risk factors include cross-contamination, inadequate personal hygiene, and repeated reheat­ing of food.

As society’s perceptions of what are appropriate body sizes and shapes have a strong influence on young people, a healthy attitude to body size and shape should be encouraged. A preoccupation with dieting, which is more prevalent in girls than boys, can start as early as nine years and increases with age.

The Ministry of Health’s 1998 Child Health Programme Review found that extreme inactivity is related to child and adolescent obesity. Other causes of child obesity include prenatal influences, genetic predisposition, and family attitudes and behaviour, including inappropriate food choices.

Students need to develop knowledge and understanding of their nutritional needs. A lack of iron, for example, can be the cause of poor growth, increased risk of infection, delayed cognitive development, a shorter attention span, and lower intelligence. In addition, a recent study has found that many ten- to twelve-year ­olds need to increase their calcium intake in order to meet the recommendations of the National Dietary Guidelines. (Child Health Programme Review, Ministry of Health, 1998.)

Effective food and nutrition education will enable students to make informed decisions about food that will contribute to their own well-being and that of other people.