The health of those living in Stanmore, in the Borough of Harrow, is generally better than the England average. Despite this there are still significant development areas. In particular, the percentage of people diagnosed with diabetes is greater than the England average. Poor dietary habits can lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Local priorities that have informed part of the borough’s most recent JSNA have included tackling diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as promoting and supporting healthier lifestyles.
As part of its induction phase into Healthy FE, Stanmore College has implemented a range of healthy eating and cooking sessions to a pilot group of students. The aim has been to gently change preconceptions and behaviours around healthy eating.
About Stanmore College
In its recent intake Stanmore College currently had 1,457 full-time students aged 16–18, of whom approximately 77% were from a minority ethnic background, so Stanmore College has students from a wide variety of ethnic communities.
Research has shown that the child poverty levels for Stanmore College’s main catchment borough (Harrow) is worse than the England average. Poverty levels and healthy eating habits are directly linked. Those living in greater poverty are typically less likely to eat healthy foods. In addition, the child obesity levels and physical activity levels in the Borough of Harrow are worse than the England average.
Prior to Stanmore College’s involvement with Healthy FE, healthy eating related issues were covered through individual weekly group tutorial lessons. These sessions gave students a basic understanding of the various food groups and the importance of eating healthily. However, the lessons were heavily loaded with facts, not very interactive and lacked the momentum to change student behaviours. In addition, the content of these sessions varied across tutorial groups, so there was no standard method of teaching across the student cohort.
‘The aim of the healthy eating agenda, as part of Healthy FE, was to inform the students about the benefits of eating healthily to help and encourage students and staff to make positive informed choices about what to eat. The long-term aim is to go one step further and engage students to become increasingly interested and aware of the contents of their food (e.g. in terms of sugar, salt and fat) and for students to gradually choose to adopt a balanced diet – this links in with the college’s mission statement to inspire and support students and staff to achieve success.’ Mike Daisy, enrichment manager, Stanmore College
Across the whole college, the following activities were put in place:
- The new catering company has an in-house nutritionist who has been extremely proactive in diversifying the food offered. The catering team has created a salad bar which is open to students and staff every day of the week. There has been an increase in soups being served, as well as healthier breakfast options such as fresh coffee, toast and muffins. These improvements have led to students and staff using the vending machines less frequently.
- Health Awareness Week is run annually every January, linking in with students and staff who may have made New Year’s resolutions. The college helps to support both students and staff members to make positive changes in their eating and lifestyle habits to reaffirm their New Year’s resolutions and works with a range of community partners at the Health Awareness Week. These include:
- NHS Harrow setting up a stall and sharing facts about maintaining a healthy body weight as well as sharing insights into food labelling.
- Student counsellors provide information on mental health issues such as eating disorders as well as emphasising how important it is to eat healthily for maintenance of emotional and mental health.
- The Catering Company offers a range of free healthy tasting dips and smoothies.
- Staff healthy eating improvements have included being offered free fruit on a weekly basis.
In recent months, there has been extended opening times for staff in the sports hall and fitness rooms, in addition to a student/ staff basketball match held on a biannual basis.
As part of the induction into Healthy FE, the college has initiated a six-week intensive ‘Being Healthy’ pilot for around 220 students studying at Level 1 and 2. This runs parallel to the traditional tutor group system.
Activities as part of the ‘Being Healthy’ pilot have included a ‘Taste the difference’ session set up in the college canteen area, which involves students being given a variety of healthy snacks and foods. It allows students to experiment with a range of new types of foods and challenges existing perceptions about eating habits.
Students are told how the food is made, which ingredients go into it and the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, as well as being encouraged to eat as much fruit and vegetables as possible. Fruit smoothies have been particularly popular, with students going away and making fruit smoothies at home.
Five hours of physical activity during a six-week period has formed a core part of the ‘Being Healthy’ pilot. Students in the pilot have to undertake and prove that they have participated in five hours of physical activity in order to meet their personal learning plan targets. Students are actively linking eating healthily to their ability to perform better and faster at their chosen physical activity.
Engaging students and changing their behaviour, and patterns of eating, has been particularly challenging. A small number of students were initially reluctant to participate in the various activities that have been put in place. They failed to see the benefit that the session may have on their overall health and welfare.
To overcome this challenge, the enrichment team has been persistent in its communication with the students. By drip-feeding the information there has been a network effect; some students have become increasingly interested in the pilot and these students have then gone on to encourage their peers to become involved. This has been so effective that students who were not involved in the original ‘Being Healthy’ pilot group have asked if they can be involved in the future.
Stanmore College’s diverse range of minority ethnic groups has provided a challenge in the sense that changing attitudes by encouraging students to try a range of different foods has been difficult because of the wide array of ethnic backgrounds and differing norms and values corning food. The enrichment team at the college has overcome this challenge by holding a cultural awareness session, with healthier versions of various foods from around the globe. Students from most minority ethnic groups have been able to identify with these sessions, and engagement levels amongst these students have increased.
The sessions for the ‘Being Healthy’ pilot scheme have been extremely well attended, with approximately 98% of students from the pilot group having attended all six sessions.
Uptake on the physical activity part of the ‘Being Healthy’ session has been excellent, with approximately 90% of students having completed the task of carrying out five hours of physical activity over six weeks.
Feedback from the ‘Being Healthy’ sessions has been extremely positive. Students were initially reluctant and disengaged; however, as the enrichment team built rapport with the students, and as the pilot progressed, the learning amongst students increased.
On the whole, students are willing to experiment with new foods, as demonstrated by the faster uptake of new cuisines in the college canteen.
The ‘Being Healthy’ sessions have led to a change in eating habits and behaviours amongst students. Students have applied the learning and cooking skills from the sessions to make changes in the way they eat at home. There have been reported instances of students having influenced their parents to opt for salt with less sodium rather than regular salt when doing the weekly shop. Other students have experimented with making smoothies and opting for various fruit and honey ingredients, as opposed to sugar and chocolate.
The college is keen to get involved in the Self-Review Tool, Big College Health Checkand the Regional Task Groups, to find out how they could best roll out the ‘Being Healthy’ pilot, and the college is planning to roll out the five hours of physical activity during a six-week period to the whole student cohort in the next academic year. The mix of fun, hands-on learning and personal logging of targets and achievements, has been the key driver for success of the college’s Healthy FE inspired ‘Being Healthy’ pilot.