National Healthy School Canteens

Trainer's Manual

Background to the National Healthy School Canteens Project

Page last updated: 22 October 2013

(Slides 1–12)
The NHSC project has its origins in 2004 when it was agreed at the Australian Health Ministers Conference that the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council would work with the National Obesity Taskforce (NOTF) to promote healthy school canteens. In 2006 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)1 launched the Australian Better Health Initiative (ABHI), which was supported by the Australian Health Ministers. This initiative included funding for the NHSC project, to incorporate some of the principles and standards endorsed by the NOTF, primarily to promote good health through healthy eating to reduce levels of obesity and chronic diseases later in life, and in a broader context to take into account the principles of the World Health Organization’s Health Promoting School Strategy (WHO, 1998). The NHSC project commenced in 2008. In the meantime, however, many states and territories, starting with NSW in 2005, had introduced guidelines for healthy school canteens. While they have a similar intent and bear many similarities, these guidelines vary from state/ territory to state/territory. The NHSC project has developed a set of nationally consistent guidelines that harmonise practice across Australia.

The nutritional status of Australian school children

Much attention has been focused recently on the prevalence of obesity in Australian children. Data from a number of national and state/territory surveys indicate that the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased steadily from around 10% in 1985 to approximately 20% in 1995, when the first National Nutrition Survey (ABS 1995) was conducted, and appears to have peaked at 25% in 2003/04 as reported by the Sentinel Site for Obesity Prevention in Victoria, (Catford & Caterson 2003). The most recent survey, the Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (DoHA 2008) conducted in 2007, showed that 72% of children are in the healthy weight range. Of the 28% who are outside the healthy weight range, approximately one in four children are overweight or obese, while 5% are underweight.

Children who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of being obese in adulthood, which in turn may increase their risk of a number of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called ‘mature onset’ diabetes because it was usually only seen in older adults, is now being diagnosed in obese teenagers.

Other findings from the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (DoHA 2008) revealed that, overall, children were not consuming the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables or calcium. A third of a child’s daily energy intake occurs during school hours and a significant proportion of the fruit and calcium the children did consume was during school hours. Interestingly, only 17% of total vegetable intake was during school hours, suggesting an opportunity to increase promotion and thereby consumption of vegetables during this time.

While poor diets may contribute to an increased risk of chronic disease in the long term, in the short term they have a direct effect on children’s performance in school and can contribute to lower academic achievements and behavioural problems.

The healthy school canteen

Schools are ideally placed to deliver healthy lifestyle messages to children. Health promoting schools ‘practice what they preach’ by ensuring food and drink supplied by the school canteen is consistent with, and supports, the health and wellbeing messages taught in class. The aim is to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

The school canteen is an obvious place to promote an enjoyment of healthy eating. For students who use the canteen regularly, the food purchased makes a significant contribution to their total food intake and nutrition. Therefore, it makes sense to ensure the best food possible is available to enhance their ability to learn and take in the information presented to them in class. For students who don’t use the canteen regularly, the canteen still plays an important educational role by modelling healthy eating habits.

The canteen also plays an important role within the broader school environment – that of reinforcing knowledge, skills and behaviours about healthy eating and lifestyle which are taught in the classroom. Food provided at school has a considerable influence on the development of children’s long-term eating habits, food preferences and attitudes towards food.

The school canteen plays a vital role in promoting healthy foods and creating a school culture of healthy eating.

Brainstorming and Group Discussion Symbol

Group discussion: Healthy school canteens

What is a healthy school canteen?

(SLIDE 13/Participant’s Workbook p.4)

Have participants brainstorm as a large group the definition of a healthy school canteen.

Acknowledge, but do not engage in a discussion of each answer.

The purpose of this activity is simply to demonstrate that there is no single definition of a healthy school canteen. The training session will address the different aspects of healthy eating and healthy canteen menus. The training begins with some basic nutrition information so that everyone will have a similar understanding by the end of the day.

Web Resources Symbol

Web resources

Australian Health Promoting Schools Association website : This website provides background information and resources on the health promoting schools approach.

National Obesity Taskforce Paper: Healthy weight 2008: Australia’s Future : The National Action Agenda for Children and Young People and Their Families This is the national plan to address the rising rates of overweight and obesity in a nationally coordinated approach.

Preventative Health Taskforce Strategy : This strategy has been developed to tackle the burden of chronic disease, including obesity in Australia, with the view of making Australia a healthier country by 2020. nationalpreventative-health-strategy-1lp (This website link was valid at the time of submission)

2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey – Main Findings : This survey assessed the food, nutrient intake and physical activity levels of children aged 2-16 years in Australia. Participants weight, height and waist circumference were also measured.