SIXTEEN primary schools in Dundalk are taking part in a six week programme entitled 'Food Dudes', which aims to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Pupils in Gael Scoil Dhun Dealgan are among those who have signed up for the healthy eating programme, which was developed by the University of Wales, Bangor.
The programme is based on positive role models (the Food Dudes characters), repeated tasting and rewards. The Food Dudes are four young super-heroes: Charlie, Tom, Raz and Rocco.
By eating their favourite fruit or vegetables, the Food Dudes gain special powers which enable them to save the world and the Life Force from a gang of baddies: The Junk Punks.
General Junk and his side-kicks, Miss Demeanour and Master Disaster, are trying to drain the energy of the world by depriving it of nutritious fruit and veg.
With their special powers, given to them by carrots, tomatoes, raspberries and broccoli, the Food Dudes feed the Life Force and foil the Junk Punks.
In pilot studies in schools in Ireland, the Programme has been shown to be effective and results long lasting across the primary age range, regardless of gender, school size, geographic and socio-economic factors.
According to Gael Scoil Dhun Dealgan teacher, Antoinette Mullany, the programme is ultimately designed to enable children to enjoy eating healthy diets, and to create a healthy eating culture within schools.
There are two main phases in the programme. Phase 1 is an intensive intervention which lasts 16 days. During this time, children are given fruit and vegetables while they are read a letter and/or watch a specially designed video of the Food Dudes.
Each day the children are rewarded with small prizes for successfully eating the fruit and veg. This phase is primarily school based, although children keep a diary of fruit and veg they have eaten at home.
Phase 2 extends the home element of the Food Dudes Programme by encouraging the children to bring their own fruit and veg to school everyday in special Food Dudes containers.
Classroom wall charts are used to record progress, and children receive Food Dudes certificates and further rewards upon reaching goals. This phase maintains fruit and veg consumption in the longer term.
A survey in 2002 by Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (a World Health Organization collaborative cross-national study) showed that 51% of Irish children consumed sweets.
l Pupils at Gael Scoil Dhun Dealgan taking part in the Food Dudes programme