From Mediterranean Diet to School Food and Nutrition Education
Over the past few weeks, Assistant Professor Suzanne Piscopo, Head of the Dept. of Health, Physical Education and Consumer Studies of the Faculty of Education, University of Malta, was invited to address two international meetings focusing on the promotion and facilitation of healthier diets.
Her first intervention was in October at the Diaita (Mediterranean Association for Lifestyles Study) National Congress in Palermo with the theme Le Tre ‘A’ Della Salute – Alimentazione, Attivita' Fisica, Ambiente. Dr Piscopo spoke about the Mediterranean Diet as going beyond physical wellbeing to also being a channel for social identity and inclusion. Dr Piscopo described various psychological and sociological issues related to this and also outlined the role of Mediterranean Diet education in schools and in the community for revalorization and adoption of this diet. Participants at the congress came from various sectors including health, agriculture and education and represented government entities, university research departments and dietetic clinics among others. A number of those present showed interest in partnering with the University of Malta on future projects.
In November, Dr Piscopo was then invited to contribute to an Expert Consultation of the FAO on Stepping Up School Based Food and Nutrition Education in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Dr Piscopo has been commissioned by the FAO Nutrition Education and Consumer Awareness Group to conduct a literature review on effectiveness of School Food and Nutrition Education (SFNE) with a special focus on low and middle income regions. At the meeting she presented preliminary findings from the review looking at both programmatic and evaluation implications for LMICs. The consultation was hosted by the University of the United Arab Emirates and was attended by academics, researchers and practitioners from universities, government departments and NGOs from the five continents. It involved 3 days of intensive presentations and workshops to inform, amongst others, a forthcoming FAO White paper on evidence-based recommendations for development, implementation and evaluation of quality and effective SFNE in LMICs.
The meeting highlighted how awareness is increasing on the role of SFNE in helping to achieve a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – particularly the goals on alleviation of hunger, reduction of non-communicable diseases and sustainable consumption and production. However, ensuring the appropriate entitlement of SFNE for all school-aged children is an ongoing challenge in several countries around the world. A number of the meeting attendees presented examples of child-targeted projects and initiatives already in place in Latin America, Africa and Asia, whilst other presenters spoke about what has been shown to work in higher income contexts. Taking a food systems approach to SFNE which acknowledges and builds upon the interplay of factors which can impinge on making the healthier choice the easier choice for children and families when it comes food and diet is a strong thrust in this forthcoming FAO White paper. Dr Piscopo’s intervention further substantiated that basing SFNE on solid theory and evidence is crucial for bringing about sustainable behaviour change for individual and environmental health.
As a Home Economist, Registered Nutritionist and Health educator, back in Malta Dr Piscopo is involved in pre-service and in-service teacher training, in community courses on sustainable living, in research on access to food, and in the promotion of healthy living among young children through the popular mascot Fonzu l-Fenek. She can be reached on email@example.com