Rising obesity rates - In Hanoi, the prevalence of childhood obesity is a pressing concern, with 41% of urban children affected. The rapid population growth and urbanisation have led to an increased consumption of processed and fast foods, contributing to the rise in obesity. Coupled with a lack of knowledge and practice of nutritional balance, this trend poses a significant risk of non-communicable diseases. The rate of obese children has doubled from 8.5% in 2010 to 19% in 2020 according to data from the National Institute of Nutrition Survey.
Limited emphasis on food education - Food education in Hanoi schools is currently limited, with only 3 to 5 teaching sessions per year dedicated to this topic. Despite this, there is a strong interest among students in learning about food. Recognising the importance of nutrition education, in 2019 the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training has acknowledged the need to integrate it into schooling at all levels, including related disciplines and extracurricular activities.
Desire for more information - Students express a keen desire to learn more about food, nutrition, and healthy diets through practical experiences, social clubs, and extracurricular activities. The results of an online survey conducted by Rikolto and the Centre for Development of Community and Environmental Initiatives (C&E) in 2021 among more than 1,500 students, teachers and parents in 13 secondary schools in Hanoi showed that most children are interested in food issues. What's more, 74% of the students surveyed agreed that their voices should be heard when making decisions about food at school. Likewise, parents are seeking additional information about student meals and food-related matters, while teachers and school staff recognise the need for more research into nutrition to provide appropriate and balanced meals.
Disparities in understanding and implementation - There are disparities among schools in understanding policies, implementing school-based models of nutritious food, and promoting behaviour change. To address these disparities and ensure effective implementation, it is crucial to establish more effective communication measures. This will facilitate the wide adoption of nutrition education and create a consistent approach across schools.
In response to these challenges, Rikolto, in collaboration with the Centre for Development of Community and Environmental Initiatives (C&E), the Cau Giay District Education and Training Division, and the Nam Trung Yen and Yen Hoa secondary schools, has launched the GoodFood@School project. This initiative aims to increase awareness, knowledge, and practices of healthy, sustainable, and nutritious (HSN) food among students, parents, teachers, and school staff.
"Since the start of the project, I have paid more attention to diet and nutrition. I want to provide better meals and exciting activities for the students. I want all the students to be not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy to ensure they can learn and thrive".
In particular, the project is developing a model of a nutritious school. This will facilitate students' access to healthy, sustainable, and nutritious (HSN) food. And in order to ensure a collaborative, inclusive process, the project involves nutrition experts, a core group of parents, teachers and kitchen staff, and health workers. This will allow all interested stakeholders to be engaged at every stage of identifying objectives, designing strategies, implementing activities and evaluating the process.
Key activities of the intervention include:
Two pilot schools established their project coordination committees and core groups in December 2022. These included parents, teachers and school staff. After identifying common challenges and setting common goals with all stakeholders, the coordination committees focused on planning, monitoring the implementation of activities, meeting regularly and coordinating the responsible organisations and individuals throughout the process.
In 2023, student nutrition clubs were established in two schools.
Various communication products and learning spaces reached students, parents, teachers and school staff about the project and healthy eating in 2022-2023.
In 2022, a Fanpage on the project was created to update and share information. An online webinar on child development nutrition was attended by students, parents, teachers and school management committee members. A training session on nutrition and communicating nutrition to children was also attended by members of the core group.
During 2022 and 2023, students participated in many extra-curricular activities. These included fun games and drawing competitions on nutrition and healthy eating.
The project plans to organise a field trip for students and teachers to a farm to give them more hands-on experience with food. Through a video competition on family meals, an online exchange project with Belgian students on traditional cuisine and healthy cooking practices at school in response to the Week for Good Food (12-21/01) in 2024, students will have more opportunities to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
To improve the school food hygiene and safety monitoring process, schools worked with the project advisor - Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bui Thi Nhung, Head of the School and Workplace Nutrition Division, National Institute of Nutrition - to review their school meal organisation process, conduct surveys in the kitchen, pantry and processing areas, and make recommendations for improvement.
In 2023, core group members from two schools worked with the project consultant to evaluate their student lunch menus. Pupils participated in this process by taking nutritional health tests and expressing their desire for balanced nutritional food at school. Their suggestions were compiled to improve the lunch menus in the future.
The project worked with two schools to develop a set of nutritional materials for teachers and students to use in extra-curricular activities, as well as to integrate into some formal lessons or subjects on health, food and technology.