It has been seven years since the United Nations launched the Nutrition Decade, a program that seeks to advance the execution of numerous programs to achieve the targets set for global nutrition and chronic diet-related diseases by 2025. The Nutrition Decade’s framework for action aims to increase visibility, promote awareness, improve coordination, bolster collaboration, and track progress towards building sustainable solutions to ensure nutrition security for all. Nutritional education and social protection play a pivotal role in reaching these targets .
Nutrition education is crucial for K-12 students, as they need to learn how a healthy diet influences their emotional wellbeing and how their emotions can affect their eating habits. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has established a transformative vision with school-based food and nutrition education (SFNE), a key strategy to building long-lasting food outlooks and eating habits that focus on improving the health and overall well-being of children and their families. SFNE encourages school communities to foster healthier and more sustainable food practices and works to promote positive changes .
One of SFNE’s chief initiatives is integrating nutrition education into the school curriculum, a key area of focus in Africa, where food security is a major social concern. FAO is helping Kenyan school curriculum establish contextualized teaching that focuses on food production, accessibility, food safety, nutrition, and production economics. Through these efforts, they aim to help stabilize food security in the country, as well as increase support for digital learning .
Another key initiative taking place in Africa is the design and implementation of sustainable, holistic school-based nutrition programs to combat recurring droughts and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Cabo Verde’s National School Feeding and Health Program serves as a prime example of this initiative. This program has helped CaboVerde transform their basic school-feeding program into a more comprehensive solution including school gardens, local produce, and nutrition education in schools. With this program, more than 86,000 children receive school meals in Cabo Verde, and the school meals program contributes greatly to the 96 percent enrollment rate of its schools .
Establishing school gardening programs as an effective learning platform to promote healthy eating habits is another SFNE focus area — especially in Asia and Australia. Australia’s Kitchen Garden Program teaches students how to grow, harvest, and prepare fresh food while developing positive habits for life . In China, the Southwest China Childhood Nutrition and Growth study (SCCNG) promotes gardening for children aged 9-12 years, encouraging them to maintain diaries about plant growing and cook new recipes using this produce during their summer break .
Before summer vacation, children receive seeds of fast-growing vegetables, and they must plant them at home and record the life cycle of the seeds’ growing into vegetables. SCCNG also released a food-related board game — called the Dream Farm — to teach students about recommended dietary guidelines.
In Latin America, FAO partnered with Brazil to establish a school feeding program — the Strengthening of School Feeding Programmes in the framework of the Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean 2025 Initiative — that successfully provides nutritious meals and culturally-appropriate nutrition education to over 26,000 students. The program also includes a learning platform for school nutrition courses to allow stakeholders in the field to share their experiences. The Brazilian sustainable schools model has expanded into over 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean .
In the U.S., students receive less than eight hours of required nutrition education each school year, far below the 40 to 50 hours that are needed to affect behavior change  . The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asserts that nutrition education needs to be a vital part of a comprehensive health education program in schools, and launched the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model, which is a student-centered, unified and collaborative approach to learning and health. The WSCC model integrates nutrition across the framework, providing evidence-based strategies and practices to promote access to nutritious food choices and healthy eating behaviors across the school setting. It includes nutrition education as part of a comprehensive health education curriculum, aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. The model fosters family and community involvement by encouraging schools to provide materials about school nutrition programs and nutrition education in languages that students and parents speak at home and by linking schools with out-of-school programs that promote healthy eating.
Although schools around the world are implementing nutrition education initiatives, school health and nutrition programs have deteriorated in recent years due to the pandemic and the lack of policies to ensure healthy school environments. The mid-term review of the Nutrition Decade, published in 2020, noted that the level of training for health workers on maternal, infant, and young child nutrition is often inadequate. Therefore, the review recommended designing nutrition-sensitive social protection policies, promoting engagement from civil society organizations and research institutions, ensuring adequate financial and human resources, integrating food and nutrition education into national plans, and increasing the number and quality of nutrition professionals . A continued focus on nutrition education and social protection will be essential in meeting the goals of the Nutrition Decade.
Therefore, the review recommended designing nutritionsensitive social protection policies, promoting engagement from civil society organizations and research institutions, ensuring adequate financial and human resources, integrating food and nutrition education into national plans, and increasing the number and quality of nutrition professionals . A continued focus on nutrition education and social protection will be essential in meeting the goals of the Nutrition Decade.
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