The Furness Academy, applicant of the "S.W.I.T.C.H. Lifestyle" project, is based in Cumbria, a region that has experienced long term economic decline and high rate of child poverty: in our school, the 47% of the students is considered disadvantaged since they come from a deprived socio-economic background. Data from the National Child Measurement Programme and NHS released in January 2018 show that 33% of students are obese or overweight: the highest proportion of the country, with Barrow leading the chart. The study identified a strong relationship between poverty and obesity: prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas. There's obviously healthy eating and exercise to consider, but also poverty, affordability, emotional health and wellbeing: there are many issues in the area that can all have an impact on the weight of children. Our school - as well as other main local stakeholders like the County Council - have identified Students wellbeing and health as Priority 1: benefits of good health in terms of a child's life, from mental wellbeing to physical activity, have an overall impact on students' longer term life chances.
This priority has been identified at EU and international level, too, and by all SWITCH partners: the EU lauched an Action Plan on Childhood obesity 2014-2020 to demonstrate the shared commitment of EU countries to address this issue and counteract the increasing trend that saw obesity rise more than a triple since 1980s. Overweight and obesity in children is considered a growing health challenge for the EU and the WHO, whose Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative states that if we fail to act soon, this issue threatens to have a highly negative impact on health and quality of life and may overwhelm our healthcare systems in the near future. Being a widespread issue in several EU countries, the project cannot be carried out but translationally, to reach effective and sustainable results that may affect a wide population of students and teachers. A focus on Italy and Portugal, our partner countries: according to the OECD (Health at glance: Europe 2012) Italy shows the lowest levels od physical activity for both boys and girls of any age group; Portugal was one of the worst performing countries on children obesity with 32% 13/14 y.o. children overweight in 2014.
Indeed, students aged 13/14 with low socio-economic status, P.E. and Science teachers as well as staff in charge of personal development are our main targets. Families and the whole teaching staff as secondary targets, too, to apply a whole family and whole school approach.
Partners have thus carried on a deep needs analysis on those targets, as well as on the local and EU context, and found out that all share the same vision and needs:
1. A strong link between overweight/obesity, detrimental health and psychosocial outcomes exists.
Lower socioeconomic status, physical inactivity, food and nutrition insecurity and obesity are associated. Thus, multi-dimensional aspects of the phenomenon have to be taken into account: physical activity, nutrition and mental wellness. On those 3 aspects we have focused our SWITCH project.
2. Spending time on gaming systems are popular part times for students and lead to sedentary behaviours.
Apply gamification elements to an Educational mobile App based on the adoption of active lifestyles and heath nutrition might stimulate students to reduce unhealthy habits while playing with peers in an international virtual environment. Moreover, training Student Leader developing a targeted leadership programme for our vulnerable students on nutrition and mental wellness is identified as an effective strategy to reach pupils engagement. ICT, gamification and peer education are the right tools to raise students' interest and motivation.
3. P.E. and Science teachers, staff in charge of personal development and the whole teaching board need to further explore tools and strategy to deliver learning items on P.E., nutrition and mental wellness.
For this reason, SWITCH focuses on teachers empowerment with a joint staff training event at the very start and the creation of an elearning platform with learning modules for teachers on these 3 elements.
So, SWITCH pursues the following general objectives:
- Support vulnerable students in personal development, promoting resilience and self-esteem through active life and healthy nutrition
- improve the education on healthier food choices and physical activities at school, integrating the nutrition education aspects as part of the school curriculum
- foster inclusion and healthy habits thanks to ICT and innovative practices and the following specific objectives:
- empower educators and develop a tailored training course for P.E., Science/Nutrition teachers available on elearning modules
- foster students leadership through the creation of SWITCH Peer Leaders in partner schools