Nutrition Messages in Language Arts and Mathematics Textbooks Used in English Elementary Schools in Montreal

Article excerpt

Proper nutrition plays an important role in the physical and mental development of individuals. Because physical and mental health are prerequisites for success in school, and because school is where children spend a good portion of their waking hours, schools have an obligation to teach children how to make appropriate food choices. Students must be taught to analyze and evaluate the wide range of food and nutrition messages they receive at home and in popular culture. Nutrition not only must be taught, but proper nutritional practices must be reinforced. Textbooks used in academic subjects should reinforce concepts of proper nutrition and encourage positive dietary habits. This analysis determined what nutrition messages are given in elementary school textbooks used for language arts and mathematics in English elementary schools in the greater Montreal area.

BACKGROUND

According to Gilbert et al, (1) more nutrition-related diseases are associated with dietary excesses and imbalance than with dietary deficiencies. Weiss and Kein (2) and Toulatos et al (3) sought to correlate nutrition knowledge and dietary behavior. Results indicated older children, age 10-13, knew more about nutrition than younger children but had less adequate diets. A negative relationship seemed to exist between nutrition knowledge and dietary quality.

Contento (4) contended nutrition education is unsuccessful because the developmental level of students has not been considered. Children ages seven-eight cannot make the connection between food they eat and what it does to their bodies. Older elementary children have difficulty understanding abstract terms such as nutrients and vitamins. Contento suggested nutrition education be based on concrete information and real-world experiences to help children distinguish which foods to eat and which to avoid.

Children receive much information, and misinformation, about diet and nutrition from television, children's literature, family, friends, advertisements, and school textbooks. While concern has been expressed about messages in television and advertisements, little attention has been paid to subtle nutrition messages, both supportive and counter supportive of proper nutrition in stories, illustrations, and examples used in textbooks.

Textbooks represent the most important resource used by teachers and students at all levels of instruction. Fitzgerald (5) noted that teachers rely on and believe in textbooks as a source of knowledge. In addition to being used to teach subject matter and reading skills, they also teach the values of society. Manna (6) suggested that giving children the opportunity to take part in a character's experience in a story can make them more aware of how they may act in a similar situation. In this way, concepts can be reinforced and personalized.

Little attention has been paid to concomitant or incidental learning. Dittman (7) described concomitant learning as "... those things that are learned when the teacher or student is consciously trying to achieve some other learning. Although students may learn facts incidentally it is the affective incidental learnings that have the greatest possibilities for influencing students lives. These unrecognized feelings, attitudes and values act as hidden persuaders and may affect students in a more lasting way than the knowledge and skills teachers intent to teach." Instructional material used in the classroom should facilitate intended and incidental learning.

Books used in reading, mathematics, and other subjects are likely to exert greater influence than those used for relatively fewer hours on health and nutrition. D'Onofrio and Singer (8) analyzed 1,204 readers and workbooks used in California grades K-3. These books were evaluated for nutritional content "... children, adults and families in readers purchase, prepare and eat sugar-rich foods more than those in any other category, while snacks, treats, and pastries outnumber regular meals as occasions for eating. …