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UPDATED: July 28, 2014 NO. 31 JULY 31, 2014
Helping Students Stay Healthy
A newly released child nutrition and health report recommends teaching home economics at school
By Wang Hairong

YOUNG NUTRITIONISTS: On May 19, National Student Nutrition Day, primary students at Huangshanlu Primary School in Hefei, Anhui Province, learn to prepare fruit salad and other nutritious dishes (LIU JUNXI)

How much does the nutritional content of the following three dairy products vary: pure milk, manufactured milk tea and homemade Mongolian milk tea? To find the answer, students in Beijing Yu Cai School recently conducted an experiment.

First, students poured 50 ml of each dairy product into separate containers and boiled them. Then, after adding 10 ml of vinegar to solidify the protein, students stirred the mixtures with chopsticks until their water content evaporated. By comparing how much protein sediment was left behind, students were able to deduce that manufactured milk tea sold in market contains little protein.

"Students spend most of their time in school, which makes it an important venue for teaching them healthy eating and home economics," Ma Guansheng told China Education Daily. Ma is deputy director of the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He was also the chief editor of the 2014 Chinese Children and Teenager Nutrition and Health Report.

Ma used the term "shiyu", which literately translates into "eating education," to refer to education on healthy eating and related home economics. According to the report, eating education not only imparts knowledge about nutrition and safety, but also China's culinary culture, etiquette, and basic living skills such as grocery shopping, cooking, time management and budgeting.

Ma suggests that schools offer courses in eating education and organize activities that give students first-hand experience. He believes that eating education as a subject could help foster healthy eating habits among students.

Dietary shortcomings

The report reveals that many students, parents and school teachers in China do not have adequate knowledge about nutrition.

Only about 10 percent of primary and middle school students are aware of the Dietary Guidelines for Chinese People. The guidelines advise people to choose food wisely so as to maintain health. China released its first such guidelines in 1989, which were subsequently amended in 1997, 2007 and 2011. The 2011 version produced by the Chinese Nutrition Society is currently in use.

In addition, only 37 percent of primary school students in less-developed central and west China know which foods are rich in protein.

Many rural parents sell the eggs laid by their own hens to buy instant noodles for their children, not realizing that eggs are more nutritious, according to Ma. Whereas a lot of urban parents believe that food supplements are nutritious and tend to feed them to their children indiscriminately, causing precocity among some children.

Many parents are inclined to cater to their children's taste, so they often buy their children sugar-loaded beverages and fried snacks, the report says. Some parents even deny food to children as punishment for mistakes, which can affect their child's appetite.

Many teachers also lack sufficient nutritional knowledge. According to the report, a survey of primary schools in six cities demonstrated that only 40 percent of teachers were aware of the dietary guidelines. Kitchens in small schools do not usually hire nutritionists, and in Beijing, only half of the city's schools have them.

Furthermore, some students have improper eating habits. The report reveals that 4.9 percent, 10.2 percent and 8.7 percent of primary, middle and high school students, respectively, skip breakfast for more than three days in a week. A majority of primary and middle school students do not have a nutritionally balanced breakfast. Quite a large number of students eat while watching television or surfing the Internet.

Breakfast is very important for children, and nutritious breakfast can boost students' physical and mental development, said Hu Xiaoqi, a research fellow with the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety.

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