I wanted to keep the talk short and punchy to keep the kids attention, in an initial meeting with Simon & Jayne at the centre I was made aware that a lot of the kids relied on energy drinks and high sugar snacks throughout the day so I tilted the content of my talk towards this. I managed to borrow some sugar cube representations of common meals from my NHS role and used these to break up the chat with something that was hopefully more engaging than my voice!
I started the talk with a couple of questions to the kids to get a grasp of what their understanding was. I asked them what they thought health meant and how they might achieve this. Whilst this seems a simple question it can be difficult to come up with a personal definition. We certainly had a lively and entertaining discussion about it! From there we touched on the 4 pillars of health (sleeps, stress management, nutrition, exercise) and then began to focus on the nutrition aspect.
As I expected the children's understanding of what constituted a healthy diet was far from what I would promote with many believing the 'fat makes you fat' myth that is so prevalent in mainstream understanding. They knew that fruits and vegetables were things that they should be eating regularly but were vague on any other aspects that healthy eating may involve. Drilling a little deeper I talked about the different macronutrients and what effects these had. Many knew that protein helped build muscle which was promising but the ideas about carbohydrates were the area I chose to focus on. When asked about carbs it became apparent that the accepted belief was that carbs were energy so therefore the more you eat the more energy you have. This is often the crux of the problem for people and is an idea intertwined with the equally flawed energy balance equation. With an older audience I would have gone on to talk about how each macronutrient is processed by the body, the effect of insulin, the ability of the body to run on fat etc etc. With this group I instead stressed the much simpler point that we can also use fat for energy. This was a perfect segway onto the sugar cubes game. I had several pots with different amounts of sugar cubes in and some laminated cards with common snacks and unhealthy meals. The kids had to guess which matched with which. This task is fairly simple and is certainly very clichéd but it can prove quite eye opening to see how much sugar is in certain foods. I wouldn't normally reduce the discussion to such a simple representation but in this instance it seemed valid and definitely grabbed the interest of the children.
From there we chatted informally and kicked a football around before taking some photos. It was a highly entertaining with the kids keeping me on my toes. A great experience for me and hopefully they learnt something and might not go for the can of red bull before school tomorrow..
Below you can see the excerpt from the Rotherham IYSS Newsletter which featured my visit. Big thanks to all involved!