With a lack of exercise and excessive portion sizes driving high levels of obesity among young people, it is more important than ever to ensure they are supported in leading active lives and making positive choices when it comes to health and wellbeing.

Last month, Independents by Sodexo brought together experts to discuss the issue and share best practice and initiatives at two symposia focusing on the health and wellbeing of young people.

In Scotland at the Edinburgh Academy experts Robert Nesbitt from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and physiotherapist Stephen Martin focused on mental health being part of a whole school ethos. Discussions were had on the importance of openness of the subject within schools and the role physical exercise plays in overall student wellness and its appropriateness as an outlet for stress.

Then at Reed’s School in Cobham, Michael Hill from charity Rackets Cubed, focused on the area of social impact and mobility. “Food is such an important part of the work we do with these students,” explained Mr Hill. “Being able to provide them with a hot, nutritious meal is one of the things that make the programme so successful. Once a term we ask a chef to come and talk to the student about the food they are eating and how it fuels the body. Children are socially conditioned by 8 years old so this programme helps to reinforce a positive attitude towards food, exercise and education.”

The charity Rackets Cubed helps enhance long-term achievement for students at schools with high levels of socio-economic deprivation through integrated sports, education (STEM) and nutrition programmes.

Ben Haining, Sports and Conditioning Coach Reed’s School shared the school’s approach to ensuring its students’ physical competence is optimised. He told the gathered audience, “Young people have got a lot to deal with, from the challenges of academia to pressures from social media, and often feelings of fatigue and self-doubt. We focus on getting the training right, getting the mind right and being positive role models for the students. Focusing on self-awareness, the physical effects of poor habits and helping them develop a positive mental approach helps build their resilience. Getting their nutrition right is a key part of helping students develop their physical competence. Our relationship with the Sodexo catering team is fundamental to this to ensure the students have healthy meal options that they want to eat.”

A common theme at both symposia was the need to understand the motivations and drivers of the generation Z population so they can be guided into making the right food and lifestyle choices which in turn will help reduce the current high levels of obesity among young people.

Generation Z are environmentally conscious and with plant-based diets becoming increasingly popular, it is this group that are more likely to follow a vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or pescatarian diet. They are also socially-driven purchasers: 80% of children aged between 7 and 15 believe companies should try to make the world a better place.

Sean Boret, strength and conditioning coach at Eton College attended the event and commented:“This was a great chance to discuss with our peers the challenges that we are all facing and glean information on how others are addressing these challenges. The insight about generation z was fascinating. Young people often want an instant response or quick fix, so we have a responsibility to coach them to see nutrition and its role in optimising performance as a journey for life. This is something we work with Sodexo chefs on as part of meal development.”

Jeremy Alderton, Managing Director for Independents by Sodexo, commented,  “Understanding our consumer is crucial in the development of our menus; we know that young people want variety but they also want food that has integrity. We pride ourselves on the provenance of our food and our commitment to sustainable sourcing. Our chefs are continuously developing food choices that reflect the latest food trends, and for this digitally-savvy customer base we also recognise the need for technology which informs and engages students in the nutrition and provenance of their meals.”

Independents by Sodexo plan to continue the discussions on improving the health and wellbeing of young people. The next one will again be hosted by the Edinburgh Academy later this year in conjunction with Scottish Council for Independent Schools, and further events are being planned in England and Ireland.

Michael Bryce, Deputy Rector at the Edinburgh Academy, concluded: “It was a genuine privilege to host this symposium. The speakers covered topics that are very current in education because they are simply fundamental in young lives. Good mental health, the relationship between fitness and mental health and how food trends within generation Z impact our school offer were informative and extremely relevant.  As a school our relationship with Sodexo is extremely important to us. Events like this add real and lasting value to what we are trying to achieve with our pupils and go well beyond what we might expect from our partnership.”

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