A trial this month will see nutrition experts coach primary seven school children in Galashiels on healthy eating before they make the transition to high school.
The work is part of the ongoing joint council and NHS Borders Fit4Fun programme aimed at combating obesity in children. And experts have highlighted the transition from primary to secondary schools as vulnerable in terms of youngsters’s nutrition. Fit4Fun programme manager Jenny Reid said in a report: “This can be an important time nutritionally as children’s food choices expand and in many cases children are allowed to buy their lunch themselves outwith the school grounds.”
Her team of nutrition theory leaders Leanne Haining and Caroline Barron have already consulted with first year students to add to the healthy lunches and snacks information they plan.
Statistics last month from Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland found of the children entering Borders schools, whose weight was measured, 13.7 per cent are overweight, with 5.9 per cent considered obese, up on the year before when 13 per cent were overweight and 5.3 per cent obese.
One in five Primary 1 children in the region being at risk of being overweight or obese is similar to other parts of Scotland say NHS Borders and points to their Fit4Fun efforts.
In addition to planned work with Galashiels P7s, the team last week held a healthy eating session at Wilton nursery in Hawick for the younger children.
Jenny said: “The whole class was involved and parents were invited too. We did a healthy snack and talked about healthy lunches and made a wrap: it’s basic and fun. It seemed to go well.”
Both of the latest initiatives were pilots with a view to putting on sessions in other schools.
The main Fit4Fun sessions have been going for two years and are receiving the thumbs-up from participating schools, parents and children, said Jenny.
She told The Southern: “Fit4Fun seems to go down really well and the girls who take it are just so enthusiastic and the kids seem to love them. I think that has been part of its success.
“In most of the sessions they do, they will have a fun interactive section making something which tends to go down much better than lecturing.”
The programme comprises six to eight one-hour sessions spread over at least six weeks, which include nutrition and exercise topics, and are tailored to suit differing age groups.
Also key to Fit4Fun’s success is that it is aimed at and taught to the whole school, said Jenny.
“It’s very much for everybody. It’s not about whether children are thin, fat or anything, it’s for everybody. I think that’s why it’s going down so well,” she said.
Topics include the ‘Eat well plate’ covering different types of food, what bodies use different foods for and what is needed for a balanced diet; sugars, food labels and the influence of the media on food choices. There are taster and cookery sessions and another gives children ideas on how to make a healthy packed lunch.
Local company Fitborders runs Zumbatonic classes and Fit4Fun funded 30 follow-up after-school activity sessions to encourage children to continue to increase their physical activity.
“The exercise part is good, too, as it is followed up. Zumbatonic is designed for kids and the feedback from that has been brilliant,” said Jenny.
Children are also given a pack of information and worksheets. And Jenny supports schools afterwards.
Fit4Fun started in August 2011 and has run in eight primary schools in Hawick, Galashiels, Tweedbank and Kelso so far after the council gave the nutrition team a list targeting the most deprived areas in the region.
The programme is an expansion on the two-day sessions the council and health officials offered previously. And it is in addition to what children learn about food and health as part of the school curriculum.
Joint public health director Dr Eric Baijal said: “This free programme gives children an introduction to the importance of healthy eating and promotes an active lifestyle. This is extremely important as we know that young people spend a great deal of their out-of-school time in front of screens. Results so far show that children enjoy the experiences and learn a lot.”
Fit4Fun will be running in Jedburgh for the first time in August.
“The feedback’s been brilliant. The teachers have commented and they’ve had comments from parents.
“The teachers have improved (their health choices) as well! It’s these little things that add up, “ said Jenny.