Sun, Nov 29, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Teaching children in
China to ‘eat a rainbow’

The rise in diabetes in China could bankrupt the country’s healthcare system, according to one medical expert, while an innovative project is trying to stop fast food addiction

By Lucy Luo  /  The Guardian

We specifically target young urban kids, because they are the emerging middle class. It is much easier to instill healthy habits when children are young rather than trying to change entrenched unhealthy habits when in young adults.

The program is based on “playducation,” which is a different and innovative approach to the current education system here. Basically, you have the teacher at the front, talking for the entire length of the class — it is fairly didactic. Therefore, our classes have been exceptionally well received — kids love it. We have had parents tell us they catch the kids singing the jingles even a week after class, which shows us our approach works.

We are currently piloting our program with a few schools and hope to roll out the program nationwide and make our content open source to all schools within China in the next three to four years.

Also, we are working with school cafeterias and local chefs to reframe their recipes, so that whatever the kids learn in class they see on a plate at lunch. We promote a lot of leafy greens for calcium, beans and legumes and tofu for protein — China has hundreds of varieties of tofu.

MISCONCEPTIONS

We have faced some challenges with parents’ entrenched misconceptions about how much milk or meat their kids should be consuming. We cannot tell them they are wrong, so we have to try and work around this and hopefully they will come to their own realization in time.

A lot of parents also say: “We’re not vegetarians, we can’t not eat meat.” The conversations become fairly polarized — you either eat meat or you do not. So we talk more about being smarter consumers, finding a medium ground. We are not saying do not eat meat, just be smarter about how you are consuming meat.

Instead of eating a steak, you can eat three meals of stir-fry dishes that use the same amount of meat. Funny enough, these are more traditional Chinese dishes, and they just so happen to be better for you and the planet as well.

The other side of the coin is the food industry we are competing with. They have such marketing power. A lot of people, especially young kids, are being bombarded with messages about unhealthy food. And it is clearly working, just look at this generation’s obesity rate. Our communities need to learn that healthy and balanced eating is good for us and good for the planet.

(As told to Anna Leach.)

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