Health promotion in schools must be holistic

Dr Eva Neely –

We need a more holistic approach to health promotion in schools to empower young people.

I was dissatisfied reading literature on youth nutrition, which was often narrow and negative.

Young people are always frowned upon, as they do not adhere to the right levels of fruits and vegetables, and they are considered a great risk to our future health. I always had the impression that it was really undermining, very narrow, and that it didn’t really take into account the whole picture.

Beyond physical health

Our strong focus on this physical health lifestyle approach really does impact health in a holistic way. I think a much better approach to looking at health in any population is a more holistic picture, looking at physical, mental, and social health and how these aspects affect each other and how we can approach it. health promotion from a more empowering approach.

My personal interest in nutrition clashed with existing research and wanted to learn more about the significance of diet for social health.

It is not always up to individuals to make the right health choices, and not everyone can.

I watched and talked to teachers and grade 13 students (ages 16-18), exploring students’ daily eating practices, including routines, rituals, and habits.

Filling the knowledge gap

The aim of my article was to fill the knowledge gap by exploring how food rituals act as vehicles for young people to establish, maintain and strengthen social relationships.

In full immersion at school, three to five days a week, I was able to observe the eating habits and decision-making of the students. They discussed typical things that might be of interest to 16-year-olds, from boys to things happening in school to other girls and other groups.

Relationships seem to me to be one of the main things that matter to young people – where they are, who their friends are – because they seem to be their main support during this rather vulnerable time.

These emerged as key elements of their speech. Food emerged in these practices as something quite noticeable at times. For example, if people were in a bad mood or arguing, they did not offer food to that person as a member of the group when they offered food around.

Food rituals

The results include three food rituals highlighted as important for young people in managing their social relationships.

Food rituals have been used to build, maintain and regulate relationships.

Providing food was quite an important thing. There were often girls who had made cupcakes to bring and share with others or who were doing something for someone’s birthday.

These are all really ingrained practices related to their relationships.

Going for a walk for lunch encouraged social interaction and was a way for young people to fit into a new group, and ritualized food sharing involved negotiating the boundaries of friendship.

More research is needed to explore how young people use food rituals in their daily lives to manage social relationships.

Focusing on social relationships in contexts such as schools could broaden the scope of nutrition promotion to promote health in the physical, mental and social dimensions, and have far-reaching implications for promoting health. health at school.

Dr Eva Neely is a lecturer at the Massey School of Public Health. She spent a year in an urban secondary school for girls, observing and interviewing students and teachers on how they use food in everyday life to understand the social significance of food among young people. She was the guest of a weekly “Who Cares?” What’s the point?’ podcast, recently started by Associate Professor Sarb Johal of Massey University School of Psychology. The series is “About the Mind for Thinking People”.

The photo here shows her with her daughter Laurel.


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