Research

Between the school and the family Project


    Entre a escola e a família: conhecimentos e práticas alimentares das crianças em idade escolar
    Between the school and the family: children´s food knowledge and eating practices

    Team: Mónica Truninger de Albuquerque (Main Researcher), Ana Maria do Rosário Rei Silva Horta, Silvia Cristina Pena Alexandre Cardoso, Vanda Aparecida da Silva (Researchers) e 1 Research Studentship
    Proponent institution: ICS-UL
    Participating institution: SOCIUS/ISEG-UL
    Reference: PTDC/CS-SOC/111214/2009
    Schedule: April 1, 2011 - March 31, 2014
    Keywords: School meals, Children, Health, Food practices and knowledge

    Summary:


    Obesity and overweight global statistics obtain impressive estimates that account for more than one billion people under this category, wherein 300 million are obese, making it one of the challenging problems in the 21st century. This issue achieves special importance amongst children, where it has gained epidemic contours – amongst EU25, recent estimates indicate that there are 22 million overweight children, of which 5.1 million are obese. The scarce studies conducted in Portugal show that more than 30% of children between 7 and 11 years old are overweight or obese. Children's imbalanced food diets (with excess sugar and fat) are one of the justifications. Moreover, a substantial part of children’s life is spent at school, it being of crucial importance the role of the school, and particularly the school meal system, in providing and encouraging children to adopt healthier lifestyles and eating habits. Given the pertinence of this theme - regularly picked up by the media - and the still scarce international and, above all, national sociological studies on the topic, this project aims at examining the organization and regulation of the school meal system towards healthy meals; children’s food appropriation and knowledge and their families’ eating habits.
    In Portugal, as in other European countries, the school meal system has been strongly criticised for providing nutritiously poor food, where products high in fat, salt and sugar repeatedly abound on school menus. Moreover, these products are often sourced from intensive and globalized agro-food systems that carry considerable ripple effects on health, sustainability and equity. In addition, concerns on what children know about food and how they connect to and appropriate food are increasing. To respond to these problems, a gradual school meal reform has been taking place in several European countries. Portugal is not an exception, and in the last years government recommendations have been issued providing guidelines to schools and their catering services on how to elaborate nutritiously balanced menus and offer healthier food in school cafeterias. In tandem, European Union initiatives to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables have been enforced through the School Fruit Scheme, and Portugal has embraced this initiative for the school year 2009/2010. In addition, in some countries re-localizing public procurement and sourcing local and organic foods are some of the strategies towards health, food safety and sustainability. In Portugal recent studies showed that producers and consumers enthusiasm for organic and national foods is gradually increasing, and health is a strong justification for choosing organic foods.
    Thus, a set of questions frame our quest to explore further the connections between the school meal system, children’s and their families’ eating habits. At the outset of national and European recommendations and initiatives to encourage children to adopt healthier food habits, how have the Portuguese schools embraced and operationalised these changes? How do children appropriate the food that is on offer at school and its surrounding obesogenic context? And how did children react to the recent food changes introduced in schools? How consisted are children’s eating habits at school and at home? Are children exposed to the same food messages and knowledge at home and at school or are they contradictory?

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