Foodstuffs has revealed that its school-based Food for Thought nutrition education programme has resulted in New Zealand families reducing their sugar intake from soft drinks alone by a massive 50 tonnes.  This equates to around 9 elephants the size of Burma and Anjalee at Auckland Zoo, 38 Mazda hatchbacks, or 476 All Blacks.

Over the last decade children in years 5 and 6 have been taken through a programme in the classroom and then in a real world PAK'nSAVE, New World or Four Square supermarket.  The programme, which is delivered by a team of Food for Thought Nutritionists and the Heart Foundation Nutrition Advisors, teaches children to differentiate between ‘every day’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods with higher sugar and salt levels and encourages children to choose more everyday options.

“We are truly staggered by the outcome of this wonderful programme.  To date we’ve had more than 141,000 New Zealand school children go through Food for Thought in their classrooms and in our stores, learning and practising how to make better food choices.  The great payoff is that they then share their knowledge with their families – to dramatic effect,” said Steve Anderson, Managing Director Foodstuffs New Zealand.

Foodstuffs recently conducted a research study looking at the impact of the Food for Thought programme on participants and their families.  The study measured the change in purchase behaviour in families who had a child go through Food for Thought.

"The results are really encouraging – so much so, that we have committed to doubling the size of the programme with an aim to be in every primary school in New Zealand.”

Prior to their children going through the programme, families were more likely than the research control group to shop in ‘unhealthy’ categories – which include soft drinks, snack foods and confectionery.  Post the programme, the study showed that Food for Thought Families reduced their purchases by 3% in this category – this means that for every 100 families who went through the programme, three stopped shopping in these categories. The standout result was a 7% reduction in the soft drink category and a 2% reduction in confectionery as a share of their total shop.

“It’s all about making it fun to make the right choice,” said Anderson. “While everything we do is based on facts, we get the children to understand simple things like how many spoonfuls of sugar are in the average 1-litre bottle of soft drink.  They are honestly shocked and it makes them think twice.”

“The programme is not about banning treat foods, it’s about helping children make more informed choices.  That they share this with their families means that the programme exposes thousands more New Zealanders to better ideas about the food and beverages which end up in their fridge and pantry.”

The Food for Thought programme is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity according to the team at the Heart Foundation.

“We’ve been a partner with the Food for Thought Education Trust since 2010.  Children and their parents are in supermarkets every week – confronted by a baffling array of products which carry a whole lot of information about their nutritional content," said Tony Duncan, CEO Heart Foundation.

“This practical programme has helped thousands of families understand how to shop for healthier food. With Foodstuffs committing to doubling the scope of the programme, our community will reap huge rewards, very quickly. We are keen to share these results with Government to see how we can integrate this into other initiatives.  Together we can look forward to healthier, happier New Zealand families.”

“We have proven that Food for Thought is reaching the right people and it’s changing behaviour.  We are fully committed to playing our part in developing and nurturing healthy communities throughout New Zealand, and this exciting programme will continue to be an important part of our sustainability programme,” said Anderson.