Objective: To assess the impact and suitability of a pilot dietary educational programme for primary school pupils. The Nutrition Education at Primary School (NEAPS) programme aimed to build awareness of the benefits of healthy eating, induce positive behaviour change and increase the children's knowledge.
Design: A comparative quasi-experimental study with follow-up after 3 months.
Setting: Eight primary schools in the Eastern and North Western Health Boards and three control schools in the same board regions.
Subjects: Data were used from 821 Irish school children aged 8-10 years old.
Methods: The education programme comprised 20 sessions over 10 weeks including circular worksheets, homework assignments and an aerobic exercise regime. At baseline and after 3 months pupils completed food diaries and a validated food pairing questionnaire on food behaviour, knowledge and preferences.
Results: Significant differences were found in the intervention children's behaviour and preference levels after the NEAPS programme (P < 0.01 in both sections). Knowledge levels were very high at baseline and though some individual items improved, average change overall was not significant. Rural children appeared to benefit more in behaviour and preferences from the programme (P <0.01). The NEAPS programme appeared to be less effective in pupils in disadvantaged areas (P < 0.01 for each of the sections: behaviour, preference and knowledge). One hundred and eighty-seven children completed food diaries. The intervention children's consumption of fruit and vegetables increased, and they consumed less salty snacks after the programme. Rural children were confirmed to have healthier diets at baseline.
Conclusions: Following the NEAPS pilot programme positive changes were seen in the school children's eating behaviour and preferences for healthier foodstuffs. This suggests successful development of a culturally sensitive nutrition education programme for school children aged 8-10 years.