Learning to eat, a pending subject

Shokuiku means nutrition education in Japanese, but for Japanese children it means much more: it is a compulsory subject in all schools.

Shokuiku or Learning to Eat, the subject taught in schools in Japan since 2005, was designed to promote good eating habits among children. After 14 years it can be said that it has obtained good results, as the rates of childhood obesity in this country have decreased. In Spain, interest in implementing a similar subject has been heard for a long time, and there are already food intervention programs in some schools, but only in a specific and non-regulated manner in the academic year.

Shokuiku’s day to day in schools

It is time to eat and in the Primary classrooms all the children remove their pencils and their notebooks from the table and take out their lunch box, withyour placemat. Teachers explain the school menu and its nutritional content. Three students (who will rotate throughout the school year) are responsible for distributing it. The menu is made up of:

  • Farinaceous: soup, pasta or rice.
  • Vegetable.
  • Animal protein: meat or fish.

The delivery men are very careful and try to be fair, serving the appropriate amounts from each group and taking into account not to waste food. At the same time, in Secondary classrooms they learn to:

  • Read food labels.
  • Go shopping.
  • Clean and cook the fish properly to avoid food contamination.

As if that were not enough, one day a month, the students bring food from home, which they must have prepared without the help of their parents. Having to deal with the preparation motivates them to have an interest in food, perhaps less attractive to a child. The food of the school canteens is based on local products but they also introduce foods from other cultures.
For the change to be profound and lasting, the Japanese food program considers it essential that families get involved, so that the ideal is that they have breakfast and dinner as a family, cook together and even invite to recover old traditional recipes.

Shokuiku, a politics of equality.

The application of this subject supposes an equality policy. In Japan, as is the case in our country, families with fewer resources tend to eat lower-quality products and this initiative means that for a child from a family with a lower income, the school menu provides a proportion of 22.3% of vegetables per day, a figure higher than usual.

Other factors also intervene in the Japanese project, such as the prohibition of food or drink dispensing machines in schools, thus making it difficult to access industrial products with high amounts of fat or sugar. In addition, local consumption is supported, to know the local product and leave a better ecological footprint, inviting farmers in the area to come to school to explain how the food is harvested.

Nutritional coincidences between Japan and Spain

Shokuiku means nutritional education in Japanese, but for Japanese children it means much more, it is a compulsory subject in all schools since 2005 and is studied by all children between 6 and 15 years old with the aim of finding the balance between food and health.

In Japan the situation was very similar to that of Spain; obesity rates were on the rise, including children. The traditional dietary pattern had been abandoned in recent decades, something that, well balanced, from a nutritional point of view, was a key point that helped explain the longevity of the country. Children tended to consume processed foods, losing interest in local produce of excellent quality to the detriment of foods rich in fat and high calories. In parallel, and especially among younger girls, the obsession with weight and thinness was increasing.

Figures from Spain

30 years ago in our country childhood obesity was almost non existent. Currently almost 40% of children are overweight, as they opt for fast foods and low nutritional quality that are far from the pattern of the Mediterranean diet. It is difficult to determine which are the determining factors that make these figures reach, but it is clear that diet plays a fundamental role. In Spain, only 30% of children eat fruit daily when the recommendation is three pieces of fruit a day. And in the case of vegetables the figure is even lower, only 10% eat vegetables daily when they should be eaten both at lunch and dinner.

Encouraging results for our country

Since its launch in 2005, and up to 2015, the overweight figures have been reduced by almost 20%, which is very encouraging. It has been proposed for a long time to implement this method in schools in our country, which would greatly benefit since childhood obesity must be fought from education.

The results are verified in the long term, both in the reduction of the figures of childhood obesity, and in whether the habits are maintained when school ends. The main objective is for children to incorporate correct eating habits into their daily lives so that when they become parents they transmit this knowledge to their children.

What should you know about Shokuiku?

  • Shokuiku means nutrition education in Japanese, but for Japanese children it means much more: it is a compulsory subject in all schools.
  • This subject has obtained good results if we look at the figures for childhood overweight and obesity, which have decreased in that country since its introduction.
  • It has been proposed for a long time to implement this method in schools in our country, which would benefit a lot, since childhood obesity must be fought from education.
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