"Is there fish in fish cakes?": An interdisciplinary inquiry into the influence of a sensory-based experiential theme course on fish on children’s food literacy and fish-eating behavior

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

  • Rikke Højer
Health promotion interventions aimed at improving children’s health have been conducted for several years. Still, worldwide, 18% of all children and adolescents between the age of 5 and 19 are overweight or obese. In Denmark, 18% of the 9- to 13-year-old children are overweight. Childhood and adolescence overweight and obesity are associated with, for example, an increased risk of adult obesity, low self-esteem, and type 2 diabetes. The World Health Organization and the Danish Health authorities both point to the importance of the educational system as a relevant setting for promoting health. Furthermore, dietary variety is among the ten official Danish dietary recommendations; nevertheless, Danish children aged 11- to 13- years only consume one-third of the officially recommended amount of fish.
The objective of this study is to investigate the effect of a five-week (10 lectures of 45 minutes) sensory-based experiential cooking course with fish on 11- to 13- year old children’s food literacy and acceptance of fish. The aim is to promote children’s healthy food behavior.
This quasi-experimental study is based on a multi-phased mixed methods research strategy and includes five partial studies, which were developed to support an iterative exploration and investigation of the objective: Future workshops (n = 32), pre-test (n = 98), pilot test (n = 61), intervention based on a quasi-experimental design (n = 268), and control study (CG1: no intervention n = 194; CG2: oral lecture 90 min. n = 207) (part of the quasi-experimental design). A total of 20 different schools and 48 5th and 6th grade classes from the geographical area of Greater Copenhagen and the province of Zealand participated. The following research methods were applied: Participant observation (total n = 217, intervention n = 58), group interview with children (total n = 27, intervention n = 17), telephone interview with teachers (total n = 7, intervention n = 5), baseline and follow-up self-administrated survey questionnaire (total n = 736, intervention n = 669).
Based on the food literacy building blocks the main effects of participating in the intervention; the five-week sensory-based experiential cooking course was 1) Plan and manage: the ability to organize and work together, 2) Select: the ability to assess fish freshness (p = 0.007, MG > CG, 0.44 units on 5-point Likert scale), 3) Prepare: skills related to handling and cooking fish; e.g. filleting a flatfish (p < 0.001, MG > CG, 0.89 units) and autonomy, teamwork, and development of vocabulary. 4) Eat: no positive effects were observed for liking or assessment of fish disgustingness; however, cooking course evaluation showed 47% had become curious on tasting other kinds of fish, and 38% stated a higher liking for fish after participation. Furthermore, Future workshops indicated that competition was an element of interest, but also that the lack of time for cooking in the subject Food Knowledge was of concern to the children, whereas the teachers were more concerned with for example allocation of resources. Participant observation during pre-tests indicated that tactile play and cooking were able to promote fish acceptance, but that rejection and acceptance was a continuum especially moved by the degree of perceived animalness of the fish. Furthermore, a status of Danish children’s food literacy and fish behavior revealed that Danish children love to cook and like fish, but the liking of fish is not transformed into a concrete intake, for example, 42% had not eaten fish within the last week. Moreover, it was observed that Danish children had a neophilic tendency with regard to food, as liking to cook was not associated with self-evaluated skills in food and cooking but with food neophobia, which could imply that the enjoyment of cooking does not depend so much on self-perceived skills but rather on curiosity and food exploration.
In conclusion, food literacy and acceptance of fish increased through participation in a five-week sensory-based experiential cooking course with fish. Based on the output the partial studies it is concluded that sufficient support has been collected to accept the main hypothesis: an ‘open window’ for promoting food literacy and fish acceptance was created based on the concepts experimentation, sensing, autonomy, knowledge and skills, and a social dimension. Furthermore, it can be concluded that the school was a natural setting for implementation as the subject of Food Knowledge already aims at promoting the children’s ability to make critical and reflected health and food decisions and choices. Nevertheless, challenges could be local resources (access to educated teachers, equipment, etc.) and subject prioritization at a local political level.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Food Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Number of pages294
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ID: 286304370