Wakefield Museums

Vicky Shearman, 12.12.2014
Engaging teens with healthy eating
The Wellcome Trust-funded You Are What You Ate project (2010-14) was a collaboration between the Universities of Leeds and Bradford, and Wakefield Council Museums.

It used history and archaeology to encourage reflection on healthy eating through looking at past- diets in a non-confrontational manner.

At Wakefield Museums, we engaged with 13 to 19-year-olds through outreach to a range of youth clubs, from guides and scouts to those on the verge of exclusion from school and “detached youthwork”, where young people are engaged with “on the street”.

The young people were encouraged to make and eat food based on medieval recipes. Though their knowledge of nutrition was basic, we found that the experience of discussing food through history, rather than the usual healthy eating agenda, enabled them to think about their food choices in a different way.

Progression in attitude to food and cooking was shown through sustained contact with each group.

Key findings from the project:

  • Youth workers were initially hard to convince but once started, word-of-mouth spread rapidly.
  • It’s important to be flexible and give young people the opportunity to steer the direction of sessions.
  • Close liaison with the youth workers helped mitigate potential problems, and helped deal with any confrontational/behavioural issues.
  • It is very difficult to get consent forms for photography.
  • Anecdotal, qualitative evaluation can better show real progression than attempting quantitative questionnaires or any sort of creative opinion polling with some of these groups.

Vicky Shearman is the senior cultural development officer, learning and skills, at Wakefield Council’s sport and culture department