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Healthy schools, healthy kids

Grade 5 kids and their parents are taking part in a province-wide survey

- April 19, 2011

Boys at St. Catherine's School in Halifax prepare Asian pears for snacktime. (Nick Pearce Photo)

When Jamie Oliver initiated the Feed Me Better campaign to improve the quality of food offered to children in British schools, his efforts were met with resistance and sometimes downright resentment.

In fact, at one school, mothers were caught passing burgers and chips to their kids through the school fence.

At the same time as the celebrity chef was leading the charge in Britain, dramatic changes were also happening in Nova Scotia schools. Concerned about rising obesity rates and diabetes in younger children, the Food and Nutrition Policy was developed in consultation with parents, educators and students. The policy was introduced in September 2006 to phase out junk food from cafeterias and vending machines and to make eating healthy food “easier.”

CLASS II in session

Five years later, Dalhousie researchers are trying to find out if such policies are making a difference to Nova Scotia kids. The Children’s Lifestyle and School performance study—CLASS II for short—is currently in session, asking 9,000 Grade 5 students at 285 elementary schools throughout the province about the food they eat, the activities they take part in, their friendships and wellbeing. There is also a survey for parents to fill out.

Head of the CLASS II project, Jessie-Lee Langille, was at St. Catherine’s School in Halifax recently, talking to Grade 5 students about the survey. After filling out the survey, the children took a snack break—munching on Asian pears that their classmates had washed and halved earlier.

Ms. Langille says St. Catherine’s School is a wonderful example of what a healthy school looks like. The north-end neighbourhood school has a breakfast program and distributes healthy snacks mid-morning. It also has a school garden and an intramural program.

Better school performance?

It’s likely the kids at St. Catherine’s are eating better than the children who sat in their desks 10 years earlier, but are there other changes too? That’s one of the key things researchers would like to find out.

“Students who have a healthier diet and are getting more activity—do they also have better school performance? We think this survey will give us really good information about how the kids are doing,” says Sara Kirk, Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research with Dalhousie’s School of Health Administration.

In the second year of a four-year project, CLASS II is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Lead researchers are Dr. Kirk and Paul Veugelers with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta.



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