Nutrition knowledge and food choices of primary school learners in Limpopo Province, South Africa
Poor nutrition knowledge coupled with poor dietary practices are factors in the development of malnutrition. This study aimed to assess the nutrition knowledge underpinning the food choices and factors influencing food choices of primary school learners in selected rural schools of Limpopo Province, South Africa. The study followed a mixed-method approach and involved 474 primary school learners (grades three to seven) aged 10 to 15 years. Learners who participated in this study received meals from the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and were taught about nutrition at their schools. Learners completed a pre-tested dietary knowledge questionnaire and participated in focus group discussions. The results revealed that children in this study had poor nutrition knowledge, especially of food groups and their roles in the body. Few learners were able to identify and allocate food items to the correct food groups (27.4% for grains/starchy foods, 11.6% for fruits and vegetables, and 37.5% for milk and milk products). The learners had some knowledge of healthy types of foods and were aware of the relationship between diet and disease, but they failed to apply the knowledge when buying food. Most learners reported buying unhealthy snacks, such as sweets, biscuits and chips. Factors such as taste, preference, satiety, peer pressure and availability influenced the learners’ food choices. These findings indicate a need for nutrition education interventions that will equip learners with the necessary knowledge and encourage them to apply that knowledge to make healthy food choices. These interventions should target schools, homes and communities to ensure that the environment is supportive, and knowledge is shared and applied by all. The provision of food through the NSNP presents an opportunity to teach nutrition education in terms of healthy eating but should be coupled with supportive food environments, such as the family and communities, to encourage and reinforce healthy eating.