Nutrition Education was the topic of the 2nd Forum of the Federal Centre for Nutrition (BZfE), which took place in September 2018 in the town hall of Bonn-Bad Godesberg. Nutrition education is not only about one’s own health, but also about awareness of the far-reaching effects of our eating habits. This was outlined by Dr. Ursula Hudson of Slow Food, an association that was founded in Rome in 1986. Today it has 100,000 members in 160 countries. At the end of the 1980s, very few people were interested in information about the origins of our food. Today, the question is at the centre of the public discourse on nutrition. Yet most people do not know enough about their food. They buy too much food that makes them fat and sick and damages the environment.
Products with inferior ingredients have long been part of our everyday lives. Not only experts find the example of strawberry yoghurt boring, which contains hardly any fruit, but instead aromas made from wood shavings. We are used to reports of shocking conditions in factory farming. In the case of special offers, we access them without asking what price society pays for food production at the end of the day.
Conscious purchasing decisions are complex
Conscious purchasing decisions force us to constantly weigh up our options: Should I buy the fruit in plastic packaging? Or the tomatoes from Andalusia, whose cultivation further exacerbates the water shortage there? The aubergine is so highly cultivated that it looks flawless but has unfortunately lost its taste. How many flying hours does the pineapple have? And can I buy a cutlet from conventional animal husbandry?… This list can be continued at will.
Conscious shopping is difficult and also laborious. Especially since every supermarket offers a huge selection of cheap products at almost any time of day. But at the latest, if the dog food is more expensive than a liver sausage, becomes obvious that in the system something runs wrong. Nutrition education is therefore important in order to make healthy choices and, with the help of the power of demand, to stimulate changes in the nutrition system. Slow Food wants to make consumers aware of their responsibilities. 50% of the gross domestic product comes from private demand. Consumers therefore have power and can make changes in the system through rational consumption.
Consumers need political support
Politics must, however, intervene in a supportive manner. What good is it for the environment and animal welfare if meat consumption in Germany remains at a constant, relatively low level throughout the year, but production increases at the same time because more and more meat is exported? Dr. Hudson also believes that stricter requirements for conventional animal husbandry are necessary to increase the demand for organic meat. In her opinion, a sugar tax or traffic light labelling is not far-reaching enough. These would only be small “repairs”, but Slow Food aims no less than to improve the entire system.
Nutrition education in every phase of life
When should nutritional training begin? According to the BZfE as early as possible! It should cover all phases of life. Even expectant mothers need information on the extent to which they can influence the child’s well-being with their diet. With “Gesund ins Leben”, the BZfE has launched a programme aimed at starting life right up to the day care centre. Within this framework, it promotes research on breastfeeding, for example, and promotes the increase of breastfeeding rates. Midwives, gynaecologists and paediatricians are the most important multipliers in this phase.
There is little data on nutrition education in day-care centres. Most leaders are aware of the importance of the subject, but the educators are not sufficiently qualified to teach the children the subject. It looks better then again in the school. Schleswig-Holstein is the only federal state with a subject consumer education. Thanks to the obligation to attend school there are nevertheless many influence possibilities on the nutrition education, because one reaches everyone. Everyone goes to school, and on average one takes approximately 2,800 meals there during school time. The children automatically practice a certain nutritional behaviour, and this certainly has an influence on their later eating habits.
The parental home shapes our eating habits
The most important influence, however, comes from the parents. Children eat two thirds of the calories at home, and a 10-year-old child has eaten about 10,000 meals there. The resulting habits depend on whether the parents themselves have a nutritional background. The connection is obvious: only those who have a basic knowledge of nutrition can encourage their children to eat healthier.
The results of a study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development confirm this statement: parents should estimate the sugar content in yoghurts, and 9 out of 10 parents considered it to be lower than it was. They suspected 4 cubes of sugar in the cup, actually there were 11. The worse the parents were informed, the more likely their children were to be overweight.
Parents can protect their children from obesity by practicing certain habits, such as offering healthy food, eating the same as the children, not eating in front of the TV, involving the children in the preparation, allowing enough time for the meal, and ensuring a positive atmosphere.
Nutrition education in a up-to-date form
It is important for all phases of life that nutrition education conveys messages that are suitable for everyday use. The BZfE wants to continue to support its multipliers in this. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the right channels. People are interested in their food. But institutionalised nutrition advice needs a new look. It must be able to keep up with the many self-called influencers, who present their lifestyle on YouTube before an audience of millions, to which for example “sugar-free” Smoothies with honey belong