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Can Unhealthy Food Intake by School Children Be Changed to Healthy Food Intake with an Effective Nutrition Education in the Life Orientation Curriculum

Naidoo T, Maharajh LR and Balakrishna Y

Aim: Measure nutritional intake of grade eight learners in a purposively selected public school using 24 hour food recall and the Quantified Food Frequency Questionnaire to identify the food that the participants are consuming and compare the food intake to the South African Food Based Dietary Guideline.

Method: This was a South African study conducted in KwaZulu–Natal that addressed the issue of obesity, overweight and nutrient deficiency amongst grade eight girls in a school in Durban Central. The learners at that school came from a diverse cultural and racial background. This was a study in an urban area. The participants that were included were a small percentage from the general population of grade 8 learners in the area. Ninety learners in Grade 8 were assessed before and after an intervention of nutrition education in terms of their body mass index (BMI) and food intake. Two of the instruments used for data collection were the 24 hour food recall questionnaire, and the Quantified Food Frequency Questionnaire (QFFQ), designed by the South African Medical Research Council and compiled by Steyn & Senekal (1991) to gain data on food intake over a period of time. Nutrient intake was determined using the South African Food Data System (SAFOODS) Food Composition Database (2016). ANOVA tests were used to determine significant differences in food intake between the first and second set of measurements.

Results: The prevalence of underweight, overweight and obesity during session one was respectively 23.3%, 14.5% and 12.2%, with no significant change in session two. The daily kilojoule intake dropped from 17209.24 kJ in session one to 13455.39 kJ in session two for the QFFQ (p=0.0002). The total amount of carbohydrates decreased from session one compared to session two, from 517.82 to 405.38 (p=0.0003). Although the intervention was successful in reducing the kilo joule intake of the participants, the kilojoule intake remains higher than the recommended Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of 8665 kJ for the age group of the participants.

Conclusion: The study provides evidence that the school environment is an ideal setting for trained educators to provide, unbiased, objective and appropriate information that learners can relate to and apply in daily life. The nutrition programme in this study was based on scientific evidence and proved to be very successful in that a stable balance in the number of obese and overweight learners in session one and two was maintained, despite the challenges and changes that the grade eight learners were exposed to in a new environment. On the basis of this study, recommendations are made for revising the national curriculum as it applies to nutrition education, at all levels.