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Massey offers expert advice on healthy school lunches

Auckland mums behind the Eat Right, Be Bright campaign have turned to Massey University Human Nutrition and Dietetics staff and students for advice about the best types of food for children to improve their dietary intake during school hours.

The campaign, which was launched in early February, aims to improve the health and educational outcomes for all children in New Zealand. Spearheaded by the Mothers United Movement (M.U.M), the group of more than 100 Auckland women are campaigning for the Government to provide fresh, healthy and nutritious lunches to all children at school and in early childhood education.

Professor Bernhard Breier, Chair in Human Nutrition, Associate Professor Rozanne Kruger and Dr Marilize Richter from Massey’s College of Health, along with a group of 17 second year Master of Human Nutrition and Dietetics students, have drawn on previous work done in South Auckland schools around meal programmes for children, to provide expertise for a framework for the proposed model.

Professor Breier says childhood obesity, malnutrition and related health issues in New Zealand have increased immensely over the past few years. “This is linked to the current food environment which promotes over-consumption of inexpensive, highly palatable, energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods.”

Massey’s Human Nutrition and Dietetics Team has a long-standing commitment to improve nutrition during the all stages of childhood and development. “Our own research in South Auckland indicates that school meal programmes can have a clear impact on children’s dietary intake, especially when they are combined with strategies that reduce access to unhealthy discretionary foods,” Professor Breier says.

“Experiences overseas clearly show that school is an ideal setting to improve access to healthier meals while addressing socioeconomic disparities and inequalities. Some of the most promising evidence from Europe suggests that access to healthier meals during childhood results in improved educational achievement, occupational status and health outcomes during later life,” he says.

M.U.M was conceived when three mums, Cassie Slade, Becky Little and Clarissa Mackay found themselves discussing the need to end child poverty in New Zealand. The team enlisted the help of nutritionists and dietitians from Massey University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, whose research underpins the need for this campaign.

Cassie Slade, who is currently studying her Masters of Human Nutrition at Massey, says it was vital the campaign was underpinned by strong scientific evidence.

“The expertise and knowledge provided by the team at Massey has been invaluable. The team have helped us shape our ‘Framework for Implementation’ document which provides a clear vision of how a school lunch programme could work in New Zealand. They have also given us practical assistance by allowing the dietetics students to conduct an assignment providing us with scientifically researched content for our social media,” Mrs Slade says.

The Human Nutrition programme at Massey clarified the major nutrition issues facing society today and stressed the importance of looking to rigorous scientific research when trying to find the answers to these big issues, she says. “It highlighted the importance of good nutrition from a very young age and how vital it is to change the food environment to make effective change. We are trying to make the healthy choice the easy choice and by doing this we can change outcomes for New Zealand children.”

One in four Kiwi children are living in poverty, a third are overweight or obese and one in three children admitted to Starship Hospital are malnourished. “School food programmes are one of the most effective ways to break the intergenerational poverty cycle, with children who are well fed being able to learn better and therefore make the most of their education,” Mrs Slade says.

“That is why most countries around the world have some sort of school food programme. The fantastic thing about school food programmes is they have been shown to improve health and academic outcomes for all who participate but they benefit those who need it most the greatest.”

Since the campaign launch people from around the country have been contacting them to get involved in the campaign and offer support. So far, more than 2,000 people have signed their petition asking the Government to provide a daily fresh, healthy and nutritious lunch to all kids in school and in early childhood education.

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