Eat Them To Defeat Them from a Public Health Perspective

Claire Gray

Claire is a Health Improvement Practitioner at Oxfordshire County Council. Bringing diverse experience from working across the voluntary, academic and local authority sectors. From starting as a Community Development and Health Worker to now providing Public health expertise to improve and protect health and reduce inequalities between individuals, groups and communities through co-ordinated system - wide action.

The growing commitment of Oxfordshire’s primary schools’ to provide positive food experiences and education to help children eat more vegetables has never been clearer. This year has seen the largest number of schools to date signed up to Eat Them to Defeat Them (ETTDT) 2022 in our area – 50 primary schools.

At a time when schools were facing some of their most challenging staffing issues during the pandemic, we were asking them to sign up for 2022 Eat Them to Defeat Them school’s programme. The ETTDT team responded by making the sign-up process even easier.

To better support schools, we mustn’t bombard them with public health programmes, cold calling/emailing and asking for their time. In Oxfordshire, we worked with local partners with existing relationships (such as the North Oxfordshire School Sports Partnership) and promoted the programme through our local School News (a bulletin communications portal to all schools in Oxfordshire). 

At a recent childhood malnutrition event with schools, councillors, public health, grassroots organisations and academia, we heard how important it is to give children fun food tasting experiences. This is a fundamental aspect of ETTDT - their engaging brand, school programme, catering challenge and fun resources that extend into the home all brought together by a national TV advertising campaign. This all helps us start to address the wider social and environmental factors beyond the school day that influence the food children eat.

We also had useful feedback from a primary school that participated in 2021 on how important timing is for school leaders in backing a programme and embedding it into a school year. Planning can start around June/July time for the year ahead.

Local schools are now using ETTDT to hook on wider actions that go beyond food education but take a whole-school approach. For example, Christopher Rawlings CE Primary school used the start of the six-week school programme to launch their new school food policy and improve lunchboxes.

School caterers play an important role and are passionate about making healthy food fun. The teams behind the food served to children know them best, and we want to help them showcase their creativity. For the first year here in Oxfordshire, our County Council catering teams are taking part in the Catering Challenge - laying on amazing spreads of vegetable tasters for each week of ETTDT. These spreads make the veg the hero of lunch and create a perfect opportunity for kids to give them a taste and bring schools, caterers, and children together through food education.

Veg Facts 2021 looks at how much veg the UK is eating; the richest 20% on average eat one more portion of veg a day compared to the poorest 20%. And children from deprived areas are almost twice as likely to be obese. As part of a year-long healthy weight community insight project in Oxfordshire, we want to determine if ETTDT is reaching these children and families. We have developed fun activities to help us gain insight and voices of children on their awareness of campaigns like ETTDT. This will help us better support schools with food education and take a whole school approach in the future. 

About the author

Claire Gray

Claire is a Health Improvement Practitioner at Oxfordshire County Council. Bringing diverse experience from working across the voluntary, academic and local authority sectors. From starting as a Community Development and Health Worker to now providing Public health expertise to improve and protect health and reduce inequalities between individuals, groups and communities through co-ordinated system - wide action.

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