Food Dudes initiative to improve eating habits in schools

The Food Dudes programme, aimed to change children’s eating habits for life, has been effective from 2010 to 2016, according to an evaluation report.

Developed by the Food and Activity Research Unit at Bangor University in Wales, the programme is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Marine and the European Commission and is managed by Bord Bia.

A combination of psychological (role-modelling and rewards) and biological (repeated tasting) factors are used in the programme to bring about and sustain behavioural change in the eating habits of children.

The evaluation of the programme which was implemented in over 90% of national schools, was undertaken by the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin.

A new Food Dudes Boost programme is underway with a focus on Junior Cycle as suggested by the Healthy Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-25.

The programme is run in over 700 schools and reached more than 120,000 students in the 2016-2017 school year.

Publishing the evaluation report, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said Food Dudes is an effective initiative in the current environment where childhood obesity is a global concern.

“This evaluation shows that the programme has a significant impact over a six- year period and identifies the importance of parental support, to ensure Food Dudes continues to have a lasting impact on children’s fruit and vegetable consumption,” he said.

Mr Creed said the report confirms the programme’s positive long-term impact on the behaviour of primary school children.

It is encouraging them to eat more fruit and vegetables in school and at home, and is helping them develop a liking for these foods. Prior to the 2010 intervention, 54% of pupils in the groups analysed brought one or more portions of fruit to school.

Following Food Dudes, that increased to 83%. In 2016, six years later, the percentage was 67%. That is higher than the 2010 baseline and following the Boost programme, it increased to 75%.

For vegetables, the results were more significant. Prior to the 2010 intervention, 6% of pupils brought one or more portions of vegetables to school.

Immediately after the Food Dudes programme was run in the schools sampled, the number of pupils bringing one or more portions of vegetables to school increased to 57% .

By 2016, the percentage had decreased to 12% but was still higher than the 2010 baseline, and increased to 27% following the Food Dudes Boost programme.

The programme is particularly effective in younger children, with the proportion of junior pupils bringing and consuming vegetables at school increasing by more than fourfold.

Another finding was that most children ate what was provided in their lunchbox even when extra fruit and vegetable portions were provided, highlighting the important role and influence of parents.

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