Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Does nutrition education make a difference?

Have you seen this?  Where did it come from? 


It’s a lime green MyPlate backpack and one may be lying around your house somewhere.  The backpacks were an incentive students received last year as part of the UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program. 

Nutrition educators from UMass Extension have been found in classrooms across the Somerville school district since 2007.  Rotating to schools throughout the school year, a nutrition educator visits each classroom once a week for 5 weeks, teaching students from kindergarten to eighth grade about the importance of eating healthy. 

Does nutrition education make a difference?  Go ahead, ask your 4th, 5th, or 6th grader to tell you the nutrient found in the grains group and how it helps your body.  They will likely raise their arms like they are driving a car and show the actions for the word ‘carbohydrate’ and shout ‘it gives you energy!’ (You can ask your 7th or 8th grader, but if yours is like mine, they may just look at you and shake their head.  But if you watch them as they walk down the hall, they will probably do the actions.)

Nutrition education in the classroom includes opportunities to taste new foods, discussions about what it means to eat healthy and inter-active lessons to get kids thinking about the foods they eat.  Classes build on what students learned the previous year ranging from Kindergarteners learning how to identify and categorize foods up to 8th grade where students learn to understand the cause-effect relationship of foods they choose and the role it plays in their own health.

Every spring the Food Groupies visit students at the Capuano to introduce themselves and show students how they help their growing bodies.  As students are introduced to new foods they give a ‘thumbs up’ if it’s a food that’s good for you and a thumb to the side if it’s a food you should only eat sometimes.

When educators aren’t busy working in the classroom, they attend health fairs and farmers’ markets across the city.  Inevitably as we attend these events students will introduce us to their parents.  It’s usually something like them running up to us shouting, ‘that’s the nutrition lady!’ and their parents respond, ‘so you’re the one who taught him/her ________.’ 

When students make the connection between what they learn at school and what they eat outside of school and pass it along to their families, the classroom-community connection has been made and we are all a little healthier and happier.

 Content provided by Tracie Gillespie, Project Leader, UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program

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