Recently I (Sue O’Neil-Berest, Good Food tutor, Edinburgh Cyrenians) went to Queen Margaret University to run a session on public health issues with the first year nursing students. In the morning they had lectures about public health legislation and policy and the afternoon session was all about the practical implementation of these policies. The 3hr session was not only a learning opportunity for the students, but also an opportunity for them to find out about the work of and the role that the Cyrenians and other third sector organisations play in improving people’s health in the community. The resources used were the same ones we use to facilitate learning in our nine and four week cookery classes that we do at the Cyrenians Good Food Programme, only the session plan was altered to reflect the different learning context and prior knowledge of the students. These students were just back from a six week placement in the community, where many had spent their six weeks shadowing a health visitor.
The group of just over 30 were split into three groups and each group got 30-35 minutes at each station after a short introduction from one of their lecturers and myself. The lecturer challenged them to think about a tree when thinking about public health policy and whether they saw themselves as the trunk having an influence on that policy or the branches that just had to disseminate and implement that policy.
Learning at the sugar station was facilitated by myself. At this station students were horrified by the visual representation of the amount of sugar in drinks that they regularly consumed. I have this same visual representation on the wall of our kitchen here at Cyrenians Good Food. Students also had to look at sugar in breakfast cereals and rank them according to the traffic light system. Next they had to come up with healthy alternatives for breakfast that they could recommend to their patients. Lastly they had to debate and share their thoughts on the changes to the traffic light system’s sugar parameters ie increasing amount of sugar allowed in a product before it required a red traffic light. This debate then culminated in a brainstorm about what policies that they would like to see government change or legislate for. Reducing the amount of sugar in foodstuffs, which would be backed up by penalties for non-compliance and the Eatwell plate being prominently displayed in supermarkets were common themes across the groups.
The 2nd station was manned by one of their lecturers Caroline Gibson, who volunteers with Cyrenians Good Food as a volunteer cookery tutor. This station discussed fibre and its importance to our diet. Students had to make an informative poster that could be displayed in a public health setting and also think of a menu that would help their patients to get the recommended 18g of fibre a day. Whilst doing this they enjoyed healthy snacks full of fibre in the form of popcorn and dried apricots. We were surprised that quite a few of the students had never before tried dried apricots.
The 3rd station was menu planning, where the students had to come up with a healthy menu for a week for either a single person; a couple or a family of four on a limited budget. This station was facilitated by another of their lecturers. Most if not all students remarked in their presentation at the end just how hard it was to do on a limited budget. The learning process at this station had a large impact on the types of policies they would like to see implemented by government, to make it easier for people on low incomes to access a healthy diet.
All in all it was a very successful session and all students gave positive feedback at the end. This evaluation was in the form of post it notes which were placed under three headings on their way out the door: three things learnt; enjoyed and change. A common theme under ‘’change’’ was more of this type of learning and change nothing. The standout comments on what they learnt was overwhelmingly just how hard it is to access healthy food on a limited budget and/or limited cooking skills. The students felt that unless this changed government public health initiatives will not have much impact on people’s health.
For myself it was a good way to highlight the work the Cyrenians do and the role that ourselves and other third sector organisations play in helping people to practically take on board all the health messages that they are bombarded with on a daily basis. Going forward we are hoping to continue to work more collaboratively with QMU. We hope that students will come to volunteer their time and skills with us in return for our input into their learning and curriculum.
Sue O’Neill-Berest, Cookery Tutor, Good Food Programme