Over recent years Jamie Oliver has had a profound effect on publicising the poor nutritional habits of children. His recent campaign, ‘Food Revolution Day’, has once again placed food education into the spotlight, but is enforcing change specific to the school setting sufficient in promoting “healthier, happier lives”?

Health is influenced by a variety of social determinants and education could certainly be viewed as a contributor. However, a prominent aspect of social determinants such as the global ecosystem, natural environment, built environment, community and lifestyle, is the influence of environment, and so, might combining food education with environmental education act synergistically in promoting a healthier future/lifestyle?

In an attempt to answer such a question let’s review some of the current literature…

The environment’s influence can be highlighted via the concept of Connectedness to Nature: the extent to which an individual includes nature within his/her cognitive representation of self (Mayer & Frantz 2004). Behaviourally, individuals higher in nature connectedness are more likely to spend time outdoors in nature and engage in a variety of pro-environmental behaviours (Capaldi et al. 2014). Consequently, considering that children who spend more time outdoors tend to be more active and have a lower prevalence of overweight than children spending less time outdoors (Cleland et al. 2008), such behavioural change may incur considerable benefits to public health.

Only 10% of today’s generation of youth has regular access to nature, compared to the 40% of adults who did so when they were young (Gladwell et al. 2013). However, connecting with nature includes exposure to gardens; therefore, school garden-based interventions may offer an excellent source of natural interaction, with the added benefit of acting as outdoor “learning laboratories” offering children an opportunity to physically interact with foods (Ozer 2007).

Connecting to nature through exposure to gardens has suggested moderate increases in fruit and vegetable consumption among the youth, simultaneously replacing energy-dense foods, and shows an association with increased physical activity (Grimm et al. 2014).

Obviously, the increased willingness of young children to taste fruits and vegetables following exposure to garden-based nutrition programs is extremely encouraging, as is the associated increase in the intake of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fibre, and an increased likelihood to cook (Robinson-O’Brien et al. 2009). But, what limitations exist with the efficacy of school garden programs?

1. Parental influence: similar to physical activity, parents influence their child’s dietary habits in several ways: (a) they dictate the variety and quantity of foods available to their children; (b) parents provide opportunities for children to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods by regularly exposing them to, and encouraging them to taste, these foods; (c) their food-related behaviours also influence their child’s eating habits and choice of foods (Yung et al, 2010).

2. Built environment: (a) whether people walk to work or school, eat frequently at fast-food restaurants, or take their children to parks may depend in part on how neighbourhoods are built (Sallis & Glanz 2006).

Fortunately these restrictions may be averted. For instance, a study evaluating 338 youth from school garden programs developed as part of community initiatives indicated an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables (plus increased physical activity). Additionally, improving student nutrition could be more effective if parents become invested in programs. This could occur through activities such as parent’s volunteering in the program, educational materials designed for parents, and homework assignments for students that involve parent input and promote familial discussion about food (Ozer 2007).

Evidently, as may be inferred from the above, implementing compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum may be an effective means in initiating behavioural change and current attitudes toward food. But, for this change to successfully spread and encompass the population majority, the introduction of universal educatory schemes (i.e., community-based initiatives) may be indispensable.