Log on to... Healthy eating

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Obesity and the size-zero debate are increasing the focus on eating a balanced diet, particularly at key stages in life such as childhood and adolescence. Tim Burke looks at what various websites have to offer in terms of youth-friendly advice.

Given the widespread concern over obesity it's hardly surprising there are a number of government-sponsored sites promoting healthy eating. Much of the guidance on these websites is similar but the formats differ and young people will no doubt respond better to particular sites.

The Food Standards Agency has developed www.eatwell.gov.uk as a comprehensive site giving guidance on a healthy diet, food safety and labelling, and an "ages and stages" section offering nutrition advice for all stages of life including childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and old age. For the young people section the site has, seemingly without conscious irony, teamed up with the teen magazine Sugar. The result is very girl-oriented with a weekly meal plan to "eat yourself gorgeous" and suggestions on what to "get Mum to buy" to make your skin, hair and nails look the best.

Elsewhere there's advice on healthy packed lunches, a myth-busting section, and a quiz-style piece that checks out how healthy your relationship with food is. Overall there's plenty of sound advice about getting balance in your diet and most of it is accessible to young people, well young women anyway.

While the National Grid for Learning site www.lifebytes.gov.uk may have been "decommissioned", its healthy eating section still has some useful material including sensible advice on weight loss, different food groups and getting the balance right. A teacher's page has worksheets and case studies that can easily be used by youth workers. These include a food survey to find out what young people eat, a case study on considering healthy vegetarian options and tools to help analyse lunch choices.

Another "official" site is the Health Development Agency's www.mindbodysoul.gov.uk. It's straightforward - providing a click through "seven steps to healthy eating" - and there are some interactive resources to help bring issues to life a bit, such as the Menu Master game - a quiz where you rate different meals against criteria such as balance or starch and fat content.

One difficulty with all these sites is that they can end up making healthy eating seem like just another subject that has to be learned, like geography. But, as health agencies point out, dietary knowledge tends not to translate into action. Practical experience of sourcing and preparing food is one way of surmounting barriers and the recent decision to make cookery a compulsory part of the school curriculum has been largely welcomed. It also offers opportunities for youth services to complement this work.

The Focus on Food campaign promotes cooking as a vital life skill for young people and its website www.focusonfood.org includes well-chosen and attractively presented recipes and photographic guides to key cookery techniques.

There are details of resources ranging from "Hungry for Health" education packs to the Cookit packs that supply a complete pack of utensils for setting up your own cookery project for £750. You can also use the site to inspect and book one of the campaign's Cooking Buses. These are superbly equipped mobile kitchen classrooms and are staffed by qualified teachers who offer instruction for young people and training for youth workers and health professionals.

An alternative to government- sponsored sites comes by way of the British Heart Foundation's Young Hearts site (www.bhf.org.uk/yheart). This has a bit more of a campaigning feel and is full of material on how dastardly fast-food companies use advertising tricks to push junk food. Notable is the link to a computer game Food 4Thought (http://food4thought.bhf.org.uk) in which evil Sick Rick leads you through various tasks such as the Hot Dog Slog, confronting you with the less than palatable ingredients of cheap processed food.

Finally, if you want to brighten up your youth centre as well as run a campaign on food and health, then a good place to look for resources is www.comic company.co.uk. There's a wide variety of posters, booklets and other resources linked to healthy eating to buy. New for 2008 are resources linked to the Eatwell Plate. These include a poster, fridge magnets and a giant vinyl floor-mat and laminated cards for group games.

WEB FILE

www.eatwell.gov.uk Features plenty of sound advice but the focus is a bit girl-oriented

www.lifebytes.gov.uk Has useful advice on weight loss and food groups

www.mindbodysoul. gov.uk Interactive resources to help healthy choices, such as the Menu Master
quiz

www.focusonfood.org Offers cookery kits to purchase and access to cook buses

www.bhf.org.uk/yheart Draws attention to the unpalatable ingredients in some processed foods

www.comiccompany.co.uk Includes fun resources to buy such as healthy-eating themed posters

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