Food for Life Partnership

Article excerpt

With childhood obesity becoming a serious problem in the UK, schools are an important environment to influence food intake and to challenge food-related behaviour. The Food for Life Partnership is one project that has capitalised on the potential of schools to address the issue of childhood obesity and encourage children to have a healthy relationship with food.

School dinners took on a very different meaning when Jamie Oliver launched his 'Feed Me Better' campaign in 2005. The Channel 4 TV series, brought to the public's attention (and consequently to the forefront of the political agenda) the worrying eating habits of children. Since the airing of the series efforts to address the problems highlighted have been stepped up, none with less ambition than the Food for Life Partnership (FFLP).

The partnership is funded until December 2011 by the Big Lottery Fund. It encompasses four food focused charities who are committed to working together to transform food culture across a network of schools and communities in England. Led by the Soil Association, the UK's leading food charity, the scheme builds upon their Food for Life enterprise, founded in 2003, which was transformed after Jamie Oliver's influence on government policy. The partnership now also includes the Health Education Trust, Focus on Food Campaign and Garden Organic. All four organizations are focused on improving children's relationship with food in English schools.

Food, health and education are intrinsically linked. Habits are developed from a young age and schools are captive environments which have the potential to shape the behaviour of every individual, regardless of social background. With current figures showing that one in four children aged between 2-10 years are overweight or obese and with The British Medical Association suggesting that by 2020 this will rise to one quarter of children being obese in the UK; the spotlight is now on schools to do something to reverse these worrying statistics. The FFLP has therefore been developed to ensure that schools are equipped to provide children with the healthiest possible start in life.

The FFLP is a programme and award scheme to aid healthy and sustainable food choices. The award scheme has 3 levels (bronze, silver and gold) which schools can work towards to improve areas such as food quality and provenance, and food education. The scheme requires a school to have a food policy; an action plan; and a School Nutrition Action Group (SNAG), which is a steering group that includes representatives from the whole school community. Schools will then have access to help, advice and expertise and online resources.

The FFLP aims to get children thinking positively about food, through teaching them how to cook; establishing farm links so that children understand where the food they eat comes from; and by encouraging children to grow their own food at school. Having a whole school approach means food education is covered across the entire curriculum. The Soil Association also works closely with school caterers and has established the Food for Life Catering Mark which ensures that school meals are fresh, wholesome and healthy, and form part of a balanced diet.

The link between socioeconomic status and eating habits cannot be ignored and the project is also keen to ensure that children from deprived backgrounds are eating a nutritious and balanced diet. Of the children entitled to a free school meal in England, 20% choose not to have them. In FFLP schools, free school meal take-up has increased by 13 percentage points in two years in primary schools, and 20 percentage points in secondary schools.1 This is a particularly significant achievement since half of all FFLP schools are in areas with high levels of deprivation. FFLP is therefore closing the gap on social disadvantage through helping those who need it the most.

So far the scheme has been a huge success with 3,800 schools currently enrolled on the programme. …