Thursday, 27 February 2014

Guest Post: How Important Is Health Education for Kids?

If you are a parent your child’s health and wellbeing is probably one of your greatest concerns. Health education should really start at home as you teach your child proper hygiene, good health routines and healthy eating habits.

What happens, though, if your child wants to skip breakfast or likes drinks high in sugar content and no nutritional value? If you pack your child’s lunch, what should you put in the school lunch box to ensure he or she has a nutritional meal? How can you ensure that your child eats what you pack for lunch instead of trading it with friends for something far less nutritional?

Then there’s the matter of whether or not your child’s school programme includes health education as a normal part of the curriculum, or offers nutritional school lunches. The Department of Health began a Healthy Child Programme in 2013, so what your child learns will hopefully coincide with and reinforce what you teach him or her at home.

Healthy Child Programme

The National Health Service (NHS) states its mission and policy as Giving all children a healthy start in life, therefore, the NHS developed the Healthy Child Programme to assist pregnant women and children up to the age of 5 in receiving all the services they need to achieve optimal health prior to children starting school. These services include: preventative services, screenings, immunisations and reviews for health and developmental stages, along with sound advice and recommendations for parenting, general health and wellbeing.

Public Health England: Breakfast and School Food

Continuing the same mission and policy (Giving all children a healthy start in life), Public Health England addresses the importance of children eating breakfast before going to school, and then having nutritional food in schools. Let’s explore some essential health education topics summarised in these two reviews.

Breakfast and Cognition

The Public Health England organisation reviewed literature and summarised the findings for studies conducted between 2006 and 2013 with groups of school children in the age range of 4 to 18 regarding eating breakfast versus not eating breakfast before going to school. These were some of the key findings for children who ate breakfast before school or who participated in the school breakfast programme:

Children exhibited improvement in attention span, problem solving, and episodic memory.

Children demonstrated improved cognitive performance, particularly in memory and fewer errors on attention tasks.

Children reported greater alertness.

Children demonstrated greater maths solving abilities.

Teachers reported greater attention and improved social behaviour of children in test groups.

School Food and Academic Achievement

The Public Health England organisation performed a similar review during the same time span with the same age range of children as in the breakfast studies, but this time on studies of the nutritional effects of school food and related academic achievement of students. These were some of the key findings from this series of studies:

Children who ate breakfast performed better in school overall than those who skipped breakfast.

Children who ate "junk food" on a regular basis suffered a negative effect on academic achievement.

Furthermore, Public Health England firmly supports the UK National Food Model known as the eatwell plate. This visual demonstration depicts both food types and proportions for the most appropriate and healthy balanced diet. These four main food groups include (1) breads, rice, potatoes, pasta and similar starchy foods; (2) fruits and vegetables; (3) milk and other dairy products; and (4) meat, fish, eggs, beans, and similar protein foods (non-dairy).

Public Health England officials highly recommend that parents discourage their children from consuming foods and drinks in the fifth food group, or at least restrict consumption of these foods, as they are high in fat and/or sugar. This is the category of "junk food" and similar foods and drinks.

Tips for Parents

So how do you reinforce health education and get your kids to follow through with healthier eating habits? Consider these tips:

For younger children, make craft projects depicting the eatwell plate, and help them choose the healthy foods that match the four food groups on the plate.

Get your kids involved in the kitchen making healthy snacks and meals that they can take to school.

Talk to your kids, or ask your child's healthcare provider to talk to them, about the importance of healthy eating and the health risks that can arise from poor eating habits.

JuniorScholar's 'Help Kids Learn' educational resource supports children's health education in schools, helping to educate and promote healthier eating for kids of all ages.



  1. I posted a couple of weeks ago about the rubbish I see in childrens' lunchboxes at school. Some of the food they get sent in with is absolutely awful and then as a teacher I am required to get a child buzzing on Lucozade or high on sugar to calm down and concentrate on their work. Often an extremely difficult task!
    I don't agree with the recommendation "Public Health England officials highly recommend that parents discourage their children from consuming foods and drinks in the fifth food group, or at least restrict consumption of these foods"...Children rebel. Anything restricted is a challenge. More emphasis should be put on how great the other food groups can be.

    1. I used to work at the YMCA with kids and with a Lidl down the road selling cheap energy drinks the sessions were a nightmare!

  2. I totally disagree with that eat well plate- I don't see how some of it is divided into macro groups (eg carbs) and others into food types (eg dairy)- it confuses the children. We have food pyramids but they are divided into vitamins and minerals (fruits and veggies), complex carbs, fats, protein, fat, and sugary carbs. The children learn that they need a balanced diet and that a little sugar/ fat is fine, so long as overall they are eating the foods lower down the pyramid. I have children who have restricted diets due to health and religion, so when we had visitors in who used the plate they were confused over the "dairy" section. The plate should be suitable for all diets and not just the ones that people see as "normal".

    1. The food pyramids sound like a great idea : )