Food and Behaviour Research

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18 March 2005 - BBC Website - Food for thought

By Lucy Wilkins

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Jamie Oliver has achieved something quite extraordinary in his widely-acclaimed TV series. With his disarmingly direct approach and his total determination to get some decent food down the nation's school children (against all the odds!), he has shaken up not just the world of school catering, but a potentially far wider one.

His efforts have forced all of us to recognise some quite appalling facts. Many children (and many of the adults responsible for them) seem to know simply *nothing* about proper nutrition. Many cannot recognise (and are frightened of eating) any fresh food - especially fruit and vegetables.

The dire consequences of this for their physical health have long been known (and the prospects are terrifying). But what seems to have drawn even more attention - as in this article - is the striking link Jamie's efforts have revealed between what children eat and their behaviour, learning and mood.

This is not, of course, news to us. Nor to numerous parents, teachers and others to whom such links have long been blindingly obvious. But 'Where's the real scientific evidence?' the sceptics still cry. There's plenty on this website. There would be much more if proper research funding were provided. If you'd like to help - please join us.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has shaken up the world of school catering with his crusade to improve what school children eat, but will it lead to better educational results as well as healthier pupils?

For 25 years Eileen Miller has watched pupils consume all manner of food, but recently she found it increasingly difficult to encourage them to eat up what they were served in the school canteen. Chicken nuggets, instant mashed potato, chips - everything most children love to gobble up. And then they sit in the classroom getting grumpy and sleepy, unwilling or unable to learn from the exasperated teacher.

But since Our Lady of Grace primary school became one of the 30 schools in the London borough of Greenwich to change its catering, things have improved, Mrs Miller says.

"It's only been in the last couple of years that I've felt that this is horrible. There have been more convenience foods coming in - the cooks just have to slide them in and take them out when they are hot. It's desperately bad for the children." Now a typical school dinner could be lamb casserole, always a salad -" not those big lettuce leaves, but chopped finely" - and new potatoes with butter.

"Now we see the food arrive here and we know that it's good quality and well prepared, so we're quite justified in saying to the children 'please have a go at eating it'."

And the results in the classrooms and playground have been noticed by all staff teaching the 200 children aged four to 11. "Before the children were quite lively, they were quite a trial," she says diplomatically. "Then suddenly they are getting on in the afternoon and incidents of fighting have gone down. They are no longer pumped up on E numbers."

But while the teachers appreciate the difference (and have even swapped packed lunches for school dinners), the children may be less aware. "They don't really take any changes on board. They don't suddenly think 'gosh, I've got cleverer'. They just feel happier rather than uptight.

"We're giving them the best chance, because if they are cross or agitated they are not ready to absorb new ideas," she says.