China Focus: Chinese school implements nutrition project to improve students' physical fitness

Source: Xinhua| 2019-12-31 17:46:56|Editor: mingmei
Video PlayerClose

BEIJING, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- While cooking mushrooms and leafy greens on a hot stovetop, Wu Kejian explains how to make a nutritious meal with less oil and salt for 50 students attending a nutritious catering class in the school kitchen.

When the mushrooms are tender, he turns off the flame, serves the steaming dish and invites students to taste it.

Wu is a cook at the Experimental School Affiliated to Niulanshan First Secondary School in Beijing's Shunyi District. He and four other school cooks have been trained in nutrition to teach students how to make two nutritious dishes through the biweekly class.

The class stems from the implementation of the "Nutrition School" project in Shunyi District.

With a focus on nutrition education, the project aims to explore new methods that can help students change their eating habits and become healthier.

Zhao Wenhua, a dietician in charge of the "Nutrition School" project, said that nutrition education refers to the education that focuses on the role of food, nutrition-related knowledge and the cultivation of good eating habits in promoting the development and growth of children and adolescents.

The State Council, China's cabinet, issued a new guideline to implement the Healthy China initiative and promote people's health in July.

With a focus on disease prevention and health promotion, the guideline proposed 15 special campaigns to "intervene in health-influencing factors, protect full-life-cycle health and prevent and control major diseases."

An action plan for 2019-2030 devised by a State Council special committee was made public in July, specifying the objectives, tasks and responsibilities of each campaign.

Major health concerns in society, including psychological health, student myopia, child obesity and cancer, were covered by the campaigns.

Malnutrition, including undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity, threatens the survival, growth and development of children and young people, according to the State of the World's Children 2019 report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

According to the report, globally, obesity among children and adolescents continues to rise. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children and youth (aged between 5-19) rose from one in 10 to almost one in five.

Under the guidance of the disease control bureau under the National Health Commission, the National Institute for Nutrition and Health under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the center for disease prevention and control of Shunyi District launched the "Nutrition School" pilot project in 2016.

UNICEF supported the preliminary research work of the project, including through financial and technical support, and promoted obesity intervention in all aspects.

"The project aims to promote nutrition education and physical activities to prevent children and adolescents from becoming overweight and obese," said Zhao.

As one of the pilot schools of the project, the Experimental School Affiliated to Niulanshan First Secondary School offers the nutritious catering class and runs a "happy farm" for its 3,400 students to experience farming in person.

Fan Hongyu teaches students how to recognize vegetable seeds, explains growth characteristics of plants, and guides them to grow vegetables including chives and cucumbers.

When the vegetables are ripe, she encourages students to bring some back home and cook for their parents.

Vice-principal Zhao Jinlong said the school plans to invite vegetable farmers to guide students and teachers through the cultivation process step by step. He expects the students will learn some planting knowledge and better appreciate the pains and gains of different occupations.

To help students become healthier, the school has intervened in both eating and physical exercise at the same time by organizing rope jumping and long-distance running.

The prevention and control of chronic diseases should start with children and should be jointly run by the health and education authorities, according to Li Yindong, head of the center for disease prevention and control of Shunyi District.

Shao Chunyan, a health teacher, said the school plans to assign sports homework during the winter vacation in January 2020. Students will be required to complete a number of daily exercises such as sit-ups and rope skipping. "So we can ensure that students exercise regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle at home," she said.

To make the campus more supportive of the "Nutrition School" project, the school has also held plays on nutrition, lectures by nutritionists, and imparted health tips to students.

The changes are obvious. Fan Hongyu can hardly recognize some of her ninth graders when looking at their old pictures given the dramatic changes in their appearance over the past three years.

One of the boys told her that he was 1.73 meters tall and weighed 90 kg in the seventh grade and now he is 1.78 meters tall and weighs 70 kg.

Since the implementation of the project, the rate of undernutrition among students of the pilot school dropped by 0.5 percentage points, and the overweight rate and obesity rate dropped by 0.5 and 1.7 percentage points, respectively.

In 2017, the pilot project expanded to seven other districts and counties of seven provincial-level regions including Shandong and Sichuan.

The campaign has brought changes not only to the students but also their parents.

Lyu Yanqiu, mother of Zhang Tengyue, a seventh grader, said that when she heard of "nutrition education" for the very first time, she thought the program was focused on "appetite" because the two Chinese words are homophones.

After a visit to the school canteen and dining with the students, she understood the importance of food nutrition and safety, and the need to apply the lessons at home.

Gao Shan, deputy director of the education committee of Shunyi District, noted that tackling students' health-related problems requires concerted efforts by schools, families, and society as a whole.