Ditching single use-plastics at these SA schools has led to better health for students and environment
Madison Vanstone, Emerson Reindeers and Kayla Virag of Cambrai Primary love fresh foods. (Supplied: Cambrai Primary School)
Small schools in a rural region of South Australia have tossed wrapper foods, helping students more than halve their waste, and significantly increase their consumption of fresh foods.
Six schools in the mid Murray region participated in the Fresh Frenzy program earlier this year, with students learning about the unhealthy reality of processed foods and the impact that their single-use packaging has on the environment.
The new program, believed to be the first of its kind, was a part of the Mid-Murray Council’s Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) initiative, which was originally a part of the state-wide scheme that promoted evidence based healthy eating and physical activity at a community level.
“It was a really great to see that there had been a big change in talking about what were healthier choices and including some healthier foods [in the lunchbox] and seeing that overall reduction in food wrappers — that was a big win for the program,” dietitian Bianca Gazzola said.
Ms Gazzola led the Fresh Frenzy initiative, the direction of which she said stemmed from reviewing the existing OPAL program’s initiatives.
Mid Murray Council’s OPAL project officer Natalie Davis (front centre) worked with students from Morgan Primary School during the Fresh Frenzy program. (Supplied: Mid Murray Council)
Fresh Frenzy ran over four weeks and involved upper primary students leading their younger peers.
At each session, students were provided examples of wrapper-free snack food choices.
Some examples included popcorn, low fat cheese with corn thins and fresh fruit.
Additionally, parent information flyers were handed out across the program’s duration, encouraging families to shop for healthy snacks, promoting ways to reduce wrapper foods in the lunchbox and providing tips on how to read food labels.
Why it was designed
In 2015, the University of Adelaide and SA Health jointly released data in its ‘Fruit Consumption: State, Metropolitan and Country’ report.
This survey identified the proportion of children consuming the recommended serves of fruit per day, and the average number of serves of fruit consumed by children aged 2 to 17 years for the period January 2015 to December 2015.
The data was collected and compared between SA Local Health Networks, which include Central, Southern and Northern Adelaide and Country Health SA.
The Country Health SA data revealed that of children aged four to eight, 96.9 per cent ate the 1.5 recommended servings of fruit.
Meanwhile, 62.8 per cent of 12-13 year olds in the region, ate the recommended two servings of fruit.
What the program did
“The reason for targeting upper primary students is really based on national and state data that shows that as children get older, and get closer to the adolescent years, there is a typical trend for [regular consumption of] fruit and vegetables … to decline,” Ms Gazzola said.
“The children really engaged with initially collecting their food wrappers and seeing visually the number of food wrappers that were at school, from the whole class, at the start of the program and then in comparison at the end of the program.”
Swan Reach Primary School students at one of the program’s sessions. (Supplied: Mid Murray Council)
Fresh Frenzy resulted in participating students reducing their waste by almost 60 per cent, with the four-week program encouraging children selecting fresh food items that could be packed in reusable containers.
Additionally, at the end of Fresh Frenzy, it was recorded that almost 70 per cent of students were eating healthier at school.
What the students thought
Cambrai Primary School, which has 38 students, was just one of the six schools that participated in the Fresh Frenzy program.
Year 6 student Emerson Reindeers and Year 5 students Madison Vanstone and Kayla Virag, each took part in the program, learning what they said were valuable lessons.
Cambrai Primary School students Emerson Reindeers, Kayla Virag and Madison Vanstone participated in the program and enjoy eating fresh foods. (Supplied: Cambrai Primary School)
Kayla said Fresh Frenzy has changed her eating habits “quite a lot”.
“Now, at home, when I get something out of the cupboard, I always remember what kind of sugar level is in them, so I choose not to eat it, or eat it [knowing] how much sugar is in there,” she said.
“Sometimes [I might eat something with high sugar in it] for a snack, or a treat … but most of the time I eat stuff with less sugar.”
Emerson said although she ate relatively well prior to Fresh Frenzy, there were things about wrapper foods she did not realise.
“I’d eat muesli bars, an apple, a sandwich with maybe some cheese on it — just like the normal stuff that a normal child would have in their lunch box,” she said.
“I didn’t know that eating healthy and having no wrappers can actually help the environment and actually make, not only the environment, but you, healthy as well.”