Family Compass Brandenburg: Children and Obesity – How Five Primary Schools in Oberhavel Want to Teach Healthy Eating

Almost every sixth child is overweight. According to a long-term study by the Robert Koch Institute, 15.4 percent of 3 to 17-year-olds can be classified as overweight, and six percent of them are obese. Corona has probably driven the numbers up. It wants five primary schools in Oberhavel to counteract in a three-year project. But there are some obstacles. Is healthy nutrition failing due to parental lack of interest and inflation?

It is a societal problem with many facets. The pandemic has exacerbated negative factors: more fast food and eating out, less exercise, social isolation, parents encouraging laziness in parental taxis to the elementary school door. “A lot is moving in the wrong direction,” notes Oberhavel’s acting doctor Simone Daiber. “It’s time to oppose this.” The school can not do everything on its own, parents need to be involved. Five primary schools in Hennigsdorf and Velten have since the beginning of 2020 tried to intensify this.

Sweets and media awareness

Next to the Leipzig and Saar-Pfalz district, Oberhavel is one of three model regions nationwide. “Family + – Live healthy together in family and school” is the name of the test funded by the Federal Ministry of Health, conducted by the district health department, the universities of Konstanz and Leipzig as well as the Technical University of Munich and the Nutrition and Exercise Platform (peb). It is about the “preventive approach to promoting weight-related behaviors in the living environments of children of primary school age”. At a network meeting in the Bollhagen Museum in Velten, actors met for the first time in a year and a half.

“It’s an infinitely important project,” said Velten Mayor Ines Hübner (SPD). What is new about the approach is that children take what they have learned into their families. Parents receive recommendations for action. Jennifer Burczyk, Hennigsdorf’s specialist service manager for youth and family, knows the problems. Her daughter is four years old and naturally wants candy and “a show”. “Yes, children are allowed to eat sweets and use media,” she said. “But you have to be aware of that.” With all the temptations – from the aggressively advertised sugar bombs at the supermarket checkout to the new TikTok trend – children need to learn to be moderate right from the start. Not an easy task for parents who do not just want to raise with a ban.

However, it starts with the breakfast box. Carrots next to cheese sandwich or Nutella toast and cola? Alexander Sontner, head of the Sonnengrundschule an den Havelauen in Hennigsdorf, reported that he had the impression that nutrition “was not so important” in many families. “The chocolate bar then ends up in the bread box again.” Sometimes nothing at all. A colleague pointed out that children can learn about healthy eating in school, but it does not help much if the parents do not buy fruit and still reach for lemonade.

Anger over helicopter parents in front of school and daycare in Schmachtenhagen

The teachers described the difficulty of establishing an awareness of healthy nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep in the parents’ home. Some children would therefore fall asleep in class. Is it due to too much media time at home, poor nutrition, lethargy due to lack of exercise? However, a teacher at the Linden primary school in Velten warned against questioning parental responsibility too broadly with the pedagogical index finger. “What do the teachers really have in the lunch box?” she asked. “We have to be role models.”

Problem for parents: Vegetables are more expensive than toast

Sometimes poor nutrition has economic reasons. Especially families who have to make do with small money often find that they are not able to ensure a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than toast and nut nougat cold cuts. According to the German Children’s Fund, every fourth child in eastern Germany lives on Hartz IV. “It takes about six euros a day for a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and a small snack in between,” the charity calculated. At the moment, the price is likely to be much higher due to inflation. “But the Hartz IV standard rate for feeding children is only 3.59 euros on average.”

Folkeskolen Nord, Grundskolen Sonnen and Theodor Fontane Folkeskolen in Hennigsdorf and Grundskolen Linden and Löwenzahn in Velten all participated in the “Family +” project: 26 classes with more than 600 children. 55 families had agreed to participate in the scientific monitoring through interviews, measurement of movement data and questionnaires. The topics nutrition, exercise and sleep have, among other things, been discussed in schools in 60 initiatives so far and taught in an active and playful way.

The swimming pool stops working - that's the background

The project has been successful. In Hennigsdorf, for example, there are now “moving breaks”, in Velten “KochOase”, a collaboration with the youth leisure center “Oase”. “We’ve been learning to handle food since January, and we grow it ourselves in the garden,” said Oasis chef Yvonne Scherdin, explaining that the “alternative to french fries” was alive. It is a successful project where up to 20 children participate each time. There is also the “Ofenherz” project. Not only during the pandemic, children gained weight due to too little exercise. “Ofenherz” is an association with clubs. “Through events, children can get to know the sports clubs.” The first successes have come in the form of more self-confidence and weight loss among the children.

Obesity leads to diabetes and shortness of breath

The possible consequences show how severe obesity can be: Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pain, especially knees and back, fatty liver and hepatitis, shortness of breath. The “Family +” project should therefore be continued in schools. “Different lessons should be continuously included in the teaching in 3rd and 4th grade, the families should continue to be actively involved and the individual offers in the municipalities should be expanded as far as possible,” says health worker Simone Daiber. With the project “Growing up healthy in Oberhavel”, the district wants to establish structures to “establish, support and control health promotion and prevention in childhood and adolescence”.

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