Our young people are educated about the dangers of eating food which is unhealthy during their primary and second level education. It is important to realise that school is just one small but influential aspect of their lives.
The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme is a mandatory part of the curriculum in primary schools and in junior cycle. The overall aim is to help develop students' self confidence and self-esteem, and promote the skills for living, for responsible decision making and for mental, physical and emotional well-being. It is supported by comprehensive teacher guidelines and curriculum support services which provide training and advice for schools and a resource directory.
At primary level, one of the strand units ‘Taking care of my body' specifically addresses the need for regular exercise and activity as well as the area of nutrition and food and the need for a balanced diet. This unit is built upon from Infants classes onwards. By Fifth and Sixth classes children are encouraged to realise and accept responsibility for making wise food choices and adopting a healthy, balanced diet, and in that, exploring and examining the food pyramid.
Elements of this strand are supported by "Food Dudes" programme which encourages children to eat more fruit and vegetables both in school and in the home. The programme is managed by Bord Bia and funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the EU through the School Fruit Scheme.
Physical Education also forms a mandatory part of the primary curriculum. Aims of the PE curriculum include promoting enjoyment of, and positive attitudes towards, physical activity and its contribution to lifelong health related fitness.
There are many examples of good practices at school level which aim to raise students' awareness of factors that impinge on their health and well-being and that help them to develop desirable lifestyle habits. For example, many primary schools operate healthy eating policies with the support of parents.
At post-primary level, SPHE for Junior Cycle builds on the primary SPHE Curriculum. In this way, all students are provided with the opportunity to develop the skills and competences to enable them to develop a framework for responsible decision-making and to promote their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. Personal health issues are addressed in a holistic way in the post-primary SPHE curriculum. Nutrition and physical activity are specifically addressed in the SPHE module on "Physical Health". In addition cross-curricular links with other subjects such as Home Economics, PE and Junior Science that deal with SPHE-related topics are encouraged.
In 2009, the Department carried out a Lifeskills Survey to establish policy and practice in relation to nutrition, exercise, health, growing up, bullying and other aspects of the SPHE programme. The results of the survey showed that 97% of the primary schools which responded promote healthy lunches, and have content on a balanced diet, regular exercise and the food pyramid, 95% encourage physical activity in school breaks and 89% have sport outside of school hours, while 85% have a healthy food policy.
At post primary level 97% of the schools which responded have content on a balanced diet and regular exercise, 90% have sport outside of school hours and 88% encourage physical activity in school breaks. The survey re-issued to schools in May of this year and results will be expected later in the year.