Scottish evidence briefing highlights knowledge and skills for promoting good food choices and healthy weight

Well the children are back at school and the little elves in my household did a fair bit of moaning on the first couple of days. They had to run round the playing field several times, as fast as they could, trying to beat the others. What happened to loitering at the back, chatting to friends? An Olympic Legacy, surely! Then my budding Nigella complained at having to make a sandwich in ‘Food Technology’ (that’s cooking, to you and me). But this is what much of the evidence about healthy lifestyles is asking for. I’m often blogging about the importance of exercise, and knowing how to make a healthy sandwich seems a pretty handy skill if our young ones are to be encouraged to make good food choices. It was all swiss rolls and rock cakes in my day, so I think things have moved on.

Food preparation skills and PE are emphasised as essential elements of the school curriculum in the latest Effectiveness Evidence Briefing from Evidence for Action (EfA) at NHS Health Scotland, on food and healthy weight. It’s one of several briefings providing a summary of the best evidence on health topics, with others on alcohol, physical activity and tobacco. They also contain a short commentary on Scottish policy and examples of what local implementation might look like. The briefings are updated at least every three months.

The take-home message of the food and healthy weight briefing is that increased awareness knowledge, skills and empowerment are more likely to lead to behaviour change to reduce energy consumption.

Here’s how:

  • Interventions should address the concerns of local people from the start
  • Use incentives to encourage healthy living such as healthy eating and walking to work
  • Awareness-raising information should provide consistent, simple and clear messages across a range of media and settings. Community programmes should be long-term, multi-component and tailored to the individual, with targeted follow-up
  • All workplaces should address the prevention and management of obesity
  • Nutrition and physical activity education, and media literacy, are important to promote healthier diets and counter food fads and misleading dietary information from an early age. Interventions should be sustained, multi-component and address the whole school and involve parents and carers. Food preparation, cooking skills and physical education should be part of the core curriculum
  • Healthcare providers have a role in prevention and should support and promote behavioural change programmes along with tailored advice, and discuss weight management options with people wanting to lose or maintain their weight

These briefings draw on key organisations for their evidence, including the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN), the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Cochrane Library and NHS Evidence accredited guidelines. These use robust and transparent methods for finding and appraising evidence and to produce their conclusions and recommendations, so users of the briefings can have a high degree of confidence in them.

I’m off foraging for some healthy forest foods now, so I’ll have something for the little elves when they come skipping back from school, chirping “please may we have a nutritious snack? We have run so very far!” Well, I can hope…

Links: Effectiveness Evidence Briefings

Food and healthyweight 4: Increased awareness, knowledge, skills and empowerment (PDF) Evidence Briefing Food 4. 6th September 2012.