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University of Leicester to study impact of food and eating on social skills of children

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University of Leicester to study impact of food and eating on social skills of children

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education

Researchers at the University of Leicester are to carry out a study into how food and eating habits can help to shape children’s social skills.

They will examine the social and behavioural aspects of dining and their potential impact on school attendance and attitudes to learning.

The study will centre on pupils at the Samworth Enterprise Academy, in Leicester, which has a focus on food and was designed by architects to have a restaurant at its heart.

Usually, research into food and young people looks at consumption and nutritional values, and the causal effects poor nutrition can have on aspects such as concentration, says Professor Hilary Burgess, Director of Studies at the School of Education.

“This study will focus on the impact of food-based culture on the life of the school and the pupils who attend,” she said. “It will observe the social life of the school, how children and young people interact when they are eating and what skills they pick up in doing so.

“Some families do not attach a high priority to this and in many homes parents and children no longer sit down every day to eat together and have a conversation. But acquiring important social skills can have an impact on the way children respond and conduct themselves in school and their attitude in lessons.”

Nick Lalli will conduct the research for his PhD by observing the life of the school, interviewing parents, pupils and staff, and carrying out surveys and questionnaires.

“Food has a huge role to play in personal and social development, including such aspects as promoting personal hygiene,” he said. “The skills pupils pick up in school will impact on their relationships, their interactions within the community and will have a motivating effect on their lives generally.”

Samworth, for children aged three-16 years, serves an area of social deprivation and high unemployment in Leicester. Every pupil is offered a free breakfast of toast and a drink every day, and parents can accompany their children to school and also take advantage of free food and somewhere warm to spend an hour or two, Pat Dubas, the Principal, says.

“The whole design of the building is centred on the restaurant and it is the first place anyone visits when they come to the school,” she says. “Many of our pupils grow up not knowing how to use a knife and fork and when you start to look into it, you realise that some families are struggling to feed their children at all.

“This also raises obvious concerns about health and levels of obesity, which are evident in some sections of the community and can become self-perpetuating if not tackled with messages about healthy eating.

“So we’re delighted to be involved with the University of Leicester, who will look into the whole impact of food on our pupils’ life-styles and over the course of the research we hope they will really being able to get under the skin of some of these problems.”

The research is expected to take three and a half years.

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