Good nutrition and healthy eating practices in childhood are important in shaping lifelong behaviours as well as affecting overall health and wellbeing.  Children consume around a third of their daily energy intake during school hours.  For this reason, schools have the opportunity to create a culture of healthy eating where children are supported to develop a preference for quality food and drinks that will help them grow in to healthy adults. 

Sugary drinks, also known as sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are one of the biggest contributors to a child’s sugar intake (contributing approximately 25% of total sugar intake for New Zealand children).  The consumption of sugary drinks is unnecessary in a nutritional sense and contributes to the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay in children and adults.  Research has shown that poor nutrition can be associated with lower academic achievement and poor school attendance.  Teachers report improvements in attendance, attention, behaviour, and levels of concentration in schools where healthy eating has become accepted practice.

Many factors within a school can impact on food consumption, including the availability, look, taste and affordability of different food options, the healthy eating messages learnt in the classroom and the dietary habits of peers.  Because of this, the school is also an ideal avenue for the promotion of positive healthy eating messages.  Classroom lessons and existing social networks can be used to generate interest and encouragement amongst staff and students, and on-site food services can be reviewed to ensure healthy food options are available.  The Ministries of Education and Health encourage schools to create sugary free drink environments by adopting a water-only (and plain reduced fat milk) policy. This aligns with the World Health Organization’s recommendation to create healthy school environments.  Knowledge and skills gained in relation to healthy eating in the school may also be transferred through to family members at home, improving the health of the wider community.

Did you know?

  • Approximately half of all school children buy some of the food they consume from the school canteen or tuck shop.  5% of the children buy most of their food there.

  • 1 in 3 children (aged 2 to 14 years) in New Zealand are overweight or obese.

  • Sugary drinks are one of the most significant causes of poor oral health and contribute to childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  • The Ministry of Education has developed resources in consultation with the Ministry of Health to assist schools on how to become a water only school.  

  • Only 60% of New Zealand children are reported to meet the recommended daily intake of vegetables, and only 20% the daily intake of fruit.

  • Consuming healthy foods and drinks every day not only improves students’ overall health but can also improve their learning and behaviour.

Information and guidelines on ways to support healthy eating in schools can be found in our Guidance documents section.  In order to ensure sustainable changes in healthy eating, it is important that these guidelines are implemented using a 'whole school approach'.  This means embedding healthy eating messages and practices into Curriculum, teaching and learning, School organisation and ethos and Community links and partnerships.

To see examples of what other schools have done, check out our Case studies section, and be sure to look through our Resources for links to free toolkits, posters, books and other information to support your healthy eating programme.

Page updated 12 Nov 2019