Why teachers need to be taught about nutrition

Roy Ballam, Manging Director and Head of Education at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), offers some sage advice

The BNF recently conducted research into food education in schools and I was shocked to find that seven in 10 participating primary school teachers had not undertaken any form of professional development in food and nutrition within the past two years. This low level of training is mirrored in initial teacher training – research from the D&T Association reveals that during a training year a teacher may receive around three hours of Design and Technology study at best, with food only forming one part of the training. At the BNF we believe that teachers play an important role in supporting the health and well-being of their pupils, helping children shape their understanding of food and nutrition. Therefore it is vital that teachers have a competent understanding of how to teach food education in schools. In order to achieve this, teachers need access to good-quality resources, up-to-date information and training and guidance on food, nutrition and physical activity. 

With no formal guidelines on how to deliver the curriculum, teachers are at risk of delivering conflicting and often misleading messages on food and nutrition, which could be detrimental to a pupil’s understanding of food. As a result of this, the BNF, alongside Public Health England and the Department for Education, have launched professional guidelines for teachers, to ensure the message is clear and consistent across all schools. With 24,272 schools in England alone it is vital that information is disseminated correctly. 

Findings from research, such as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), has indicated that good nutrition is not only vital for a child’s well-being and growth but that an unhealthy lifestyle could also be detrimental to their academic development and attainment. With research demonstrating that physical fitness and body weight can affect the brain, we hope that improving teaching about healthy lifestyle will have a positive influence on pupils. 

It is in light of this research that the BNF has launched its new professional development platform for primary, pre-prep and prep school teachers. It provides free online training, which we hope will give teachers the confidence to deliver informed, confident and inspirational lessons on health and nutrition. The professional development course, titled ‘Teaching food in primary: the why, what and how’, consists of seven different training modules such as food origins, the Eatwell Guide and healthy eating, nutrition understanding, food safety, and cooking in the classroom. The platform also includes downloadable guides, an assessment and a BNF certificate for those who successfully complete the course. 

At the BNF we want to ensure that the information being shared with teachers about nutrition is clear, consistent and evidence-based. In equal measure the resources need to be relevant to the curriculum and qualifications. Finally we want to support teachers professionally throughout their teaching career. In turn we hope that valuable knowledge about how to ensure physical and mental well-being through a healthy lifestyle of physical activity and nutrition will be passed on to future generations. 

For more information, visit nutrition.org.uk