Educating future generations to eat healthily: Danone’s commitment

Summary

Danone has made it its mission and one of the major axes of its corporate responsibility to help people adopt healthy lifestyles and eating habits. Designing specific programmes directed at children, in a context of rising childhood obesity, is a major factor in making this mission durable: the adults of tomorrow need to know better. Thanks to the Danone Institutes and to the group’s local brands, various initiatives are being led all over the world – and one, the Danone Nations Cup, acts as a synthesis and combination of them all.

21Jan.
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We have raised this issue several times already, as it is becoming a factor that significantly impacts our reflections and actions on health and nutrition: obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases related to food are spreading everywhere in the world – including in developing countries. In Western Europe and North America, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children is progressing at alarming rates. And, as children are the adults (and maybe parents) of tomorrow, it is crucial, for the general health of future generations, to curb the process and help them adopt healthier eating habits. This idea is central to the corporate social responsibility framework that Danone has set for itself, and also to the very mission of the group, « bring health through food to as many people as possible ». This is why Danone is leading a wide range of educational actions in the countries in which it is located – with particular attention being paid to children. Many of these actions are endorsed by one of the Danone Institutes (there are 15 across the world), « not-for-profit organisations contributing to improving the quality of the diet and therefore the health of all people. »

Danone Institutes promote evidence-based scientific knowledge in diet and nutrition and disseminate relevant knowledge on diet and nutrition.

Others are launched by local business units or endorsed by one of the group’s brands. But in each and every case, a string of principles always apply: co-create the actions with experts, parents and teachers, co-lead them, and always keep the best nutritional interests of children in mind. Here is a review of several nutritional education initiatives that have been developed by Danone over the past few years, how they work and what their philosophy is.

 

“Mum, Dad, I prefer water!” – Poland

 

This campaign was launched in 2009 by water brand Zywiec Zdroj when it realised that only 13% of 3-15-year-olds’ fluid intake was plain water. Poland consumes an average of 91 litres of water per person per year: that is 28% below the Western European average. In Poland, child obesity is rising and health problems related to weight tend to appear much earlier than they used to. In collaboration with the main Polish health and educational institutions – the Ministry of Health, the Food & Nourishment Institute, the Mother & Child Institute and the Ministry of Education –, Zywiec Zdroj consequently developed the “Mum, Dad, I prefer water!” campaign. This programme consists of “educational materials dedicated to children, parents and teachers” and communication targeting the general public. In schools, lessons were taught to highlight the importance of water as part of a healthy diet, supported by specific materials designed by nutrition experts. The response to the programme was globally very positive, with 92% of parents rating it as being interesting and important, and the teachers expressing their satisfaction.

Between 2009 and 2011, around 570,000 children in 4,400 educational institutions took part. And over the course of these three years, the share of water (bottled water + tap water) in the 3-15- year-olds’ daily fluid intake significantly rose from 13% to 22%.

 

“Bon appétit, bouge ta santé!” (“Enjoy your meal, move your health!”) – Belgium

 

In Belgium, Danone initiated the “Bon appétit, bouge ta santé!” programme in partnership with the European Club of Paediatric Dieticians, the Belgian Paediatrics Society and the Belgium Danone Institute in 2011. Like in Poland, it was devised as a response to a context of growing overweight and obesity among children. But another source of concern was young girls who are precociously obsessed with their weight and develop deficiencies in essential nutrients, compromising healthy growth.

“Bon appétit, bouge ta santé!” was thus designed with experts and teachers to promote healthy nutrition and teach the children how to eat well, as well as to educate them on the importance of physical activity, hygiene, the environment, etc.

The programme was initially rolled out in 1,900 schools (one third of Belgian schools), with more of a “game-based” approach than that taken in Poland. A set of fun tools was issued: posters, a question & answer game, nutrition cards and a notebook with games and cartoons about health and nutrition. The operation was such a success that many teachers and parents asked to have access to the materials; they are now available to download free on the campaign’s website, which also features advice and video interviews with nutritionists. The effectiveness of the game was evaluated in a class by paediatric dietician Marie-Josée Mozin, who found that children knew much more about nutrition two months after playing the game than they did before, and that they had remembered the main rules they were taught.

 

“Eat like a champ” – United Kingdom

 

Eat like a champ” is another educational programme designed by Danone targeting primary school children (aged 9-10 years) to tackle the “pressing social issue of poor nutrition and growing child obesity in the UK.” It was first launched in 2010, piloted in 18 primary schools, and consists of six specially tailored lessons devised in partnership with the British Nutrition Foundation. The specificity of “Eat like a champ” is that, as the name suggests, it refers to a champion who poses as a healthy role model for children: the street dance sensation Diversity, very popular in the UK, is the ambassador of the campaign. The results of the operation are impressive: in 2011, 53 primary schools were involved and

95% of children participating reported to be eating more healthily after completing the Eat Like A Champ lessons.

In 2012, independent research carried out by the Children’s Food Trust confirmed those results, and 500 schools were involved. For 2013, the aim is to run Eat Like A Champ in over 1,000 UK primary schools.

 

Other initiatives in the US, Czech Republic and China… and an international one, too

 

Other campaigns in different countries were featured, and it is hard to mention them all. In China, a television programme produced by the Danone Institute, “Healthy Diet, Healthy Growth” was broadcasted to educate parents on the issue: 52 episodes were shown on 5 national channels. In the United States, the Danone Institute developed “Celebrating Healthy Eating”, a nutritional education program that targets preschool children, their parents and early childhood educators. A variety of tools are available free on the programme’s website regarding nutrition and how to communicate healthy habits to children. In Czech Republic, the Danone Institute created a computerised nutrition game for children aged 6 to 9 to help them develop healthy eating habits.

And, alongside this variety of initiatives, there is one that works as a sort of link between them: the Danone Nations Cup, Danone’s most significant and impactful action towards healthier nutrition for children. As we explained in this article, the French edition of the DNC organised workshops “in parallel with the games to inform the children of the absolute necessity of healthy nutrition when you want to play football.” In the UK, in Belgium, in Czech Republic and in Poland, the Danone Nations Cup works as the second pillar of the group’s actions in favour of children and their health. At a global level, Zinédine Zidane himself, the godfather of the DNC, explains that he chose to become involved because it would “allow him to help develop nutrition programmes centred on children all over the world.” As we have previously written,

the DNC is a true match for Danone’s ambition to pass on knowledge about how people can achieve health through food, exercise and hydration.

This could be said of any of the projects that we have just set out. With these educational programmes, Danone aims to help future generations build healthier lives for themselves.

Photo © Shutterstock / MJTH