In partnership with Soil Association, we are working with schools across Lambeth and Southwark to improve their food options and get communities involved in building a healthier food culture in schools.
Starting with a one-year programme across six schools, we want to test how the well-established Food for Life national framework can be adapted to meet the specific needs of our inner-city boroughs, and how it may help us address childhood obesity. Part of our strand of work that focuses on schools, the project will help us explore how initiatives like these can contribute to closing the childhood obesity ‘inequality gap’ – bringing the highest rates in these areas down to the levels of the more affluent local neighbourhoods.
October - December 2018
Agree working partnerships with local schools. Collect baseline data on their existing food offer, pupil experience of food in the school day, and food education activities. Compile obesity data and agree staff backfilling arrangements to ensure schools can commit to the programme.
October 2018 - January 2019
Build a picture of the existing food offer within the six schools, and how best school caterers and in-house cooks can be engaged to support the outcomes of the programme. Focus groups, training, and 1:1 support to begin in January 2019.
January - July 2019
Provide in-depth support to senior managers, Governors, food leads, pupils and parents / carers so they are equipped to achieve a Food for Life Award as well as specific support for school-led projects. Input is used to shape the training programme and any resources developed. In parallel, design activities that engage the schools and their wider communities, gather their input into the programme through creative training events, focus groups and workshops.
June - August 2019
Refine the Food for Life offer based on learning from local partners and understanding of how the actions they have taken link to childhood obesity outcomes.
April - August 2019
Assess impact of interventions in the six different schools, share learning with the school community and other partners, and celebrate school achievements including Food for Life Awards.
Led by Soil Association, the Food for Life Lambeth and Southwark programme will work to support six local schools, a mix of primary and secondary, to achieve Food for Life awards. The aim is to embed the changes that make the greatest difference to promoting a healthy weight, adapting the Food for Life framework to each school and local community.
Through working with schools and evaluation partners nationwide since 2007, Food for Life has a robust evidence base, an awards framework and a suite of training courses and in-school resources that support schools to embed a whole-school approach to nutritious food.
At the heart of this one-year pilot project is active engagement: listening to the needs of the schools – located in some of the areas with highest levels of childhood obesity and lowest family incomes – and the schools’ communities to ensure the framework is tailored for each local context.
Soil Association wants to re-examine the core elements of the national Food for Life programme in Lambeth and Southwark, to establish a fresh approach focused specifically on supporting healthy weight. The programme will take into account a range of factors including what issues local pupils face in relation to food, how able teachers are to access training and how caterers can work flexibly to provide more healthy options.
Researchers from The Behavioural Insights Team are contributing evidence to help adapt the framework. They are studying eating behaviours in schools and how the ways food is presented and served can impact on obesity. They are also helping evaluate the impact of the programme.
Working in partnership with six schools initially, Food for Life Lambeth and Southwark will evaluate the changes that have the biggest impact on the diet and health of students, and use these lessons to adapt their approach for wider use. Learning from the experience in these boroughs will also feed into the national delivery of the Food for Life programme.
London has the highest rate of childhood obesity of any major global city, according to the London Health Commission. The prevalence of obesity at Reception age (4-5), as recorded through the National Child Measurement Programme, is higher in Lambeth (11.1%) and Southwark (12.2%) than the national average (9.3%). This trend becomes more acute in Year 6 children (Lambeth: 23.2%; Southwark: 26.7%; England: 19.8%). We also know that rates of childhood obesity correlate with income levels and are higher in areas of ethnic diversity.
The programme seeks to bring together the things we do know – the ways food is presented and served that can improve eating behaviours – and what we don’t know – exactly which measures will work best for each school – so that schools can have robust approaches in supporting the healthy weight of children in the long-term.
School food can have a significant impact on the long-term diet of pupils, and their families. Research evaluating Food for Life’s work with schools so far shows that pupils in Food for Life schools are twice as likely to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day and are more likely to eat fruit and veg at home. Soil Association has found that as schools advance through their awards framework (from Bronze to Silver and beyond) these likelihoods increase.
Soil Association’s Food for Life programme is the most widely-commissioned ‘food in schools’ programme in the country. Currently, 969 schools across the UK hold their Food for Life School Award, which is tiered Bronze, Silver and Gold to support continuous improvement towards a ‘whole-school' approach to food.
Soil Association is the UK’s leading food and farming charity that campaigns for healthy and sustainable food, farming and land use in the UK. Soil Association work with farmers, schools, and landowners to transform the ways we farm and the way we consume food to make good food the easy choice for everyone.
In its initial year, the programme aims to:
Over this pilot year much of the emphasis was placed on learning how best to co-design initiatives that put healthier options front and centre in each school. This collaboration also involved working with caterers to improve the quality and type of food on offer. Five out of six of these local schools completed the full year of activities.
We gained in-depth insight into food provision across the schools, from menu design to methods of food preparation and ways food was offered to students. It enabled us to learn about the food options available in this cohort of primary and secondary schools, and identify areas to support improvements to the health of the food on offer. Working alongside the Food for Life team and tapping into their unique relationship with caterers has given us a broader understanding of the school food market. These insights have informed our thinking for current and future projects we deliver in schools. The five schools, including their catering teams, showed a strong willingness to engage in and test changes across mealtimes and use their influence to ensure more healthy options were served and eaten. During the project there were impactful changes to food provision that catered to the specific needs of each school, including:
These examples of successful changes show the potential for how even in a short time frame, it is possible to significantly alter how food is made, served and eaten at school to prioritise children and young people’s health.
The Food for Life schools framework involves multiple activities to achieve a wide range of outcomes in the school across nutrition, food education, sustainability and environmental considerations. Our joint ambition to alter the framework to look more in-depth at the health impacts of food in schools (to tackle childhood obesity) was more complex than we anticipated. For our specific focus on children’s health, we found that the framework’s broad approach was not the most impactful. It would therefore not be a suitable strategic fit for us to scale the project further or replicate across more schools in our boroughs.
The pilot achieved some great successes in the five schools it worked with. The overall project taught us about the specificity and range of projects we need to support through our schools strand to promote the take-up of healthy and nutritious food options throughout the school day. We plan to make the most of Food for Life’s central position in the school food sector and work closely with them in future projects through this strand.
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