Healthy nutrition reduces anti-social behaviour in young people

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Heathy food and nutrition is a vital component of young people’s development.

It's an equality issue, that goes to the heart of many issues young people face, and something we feel should be given far more prominence.

So much so that we have hired a specialist to run specific programmes for us.

Young people cooking at St Monica's Trust as part of a new nutritional programme at Empire Fighting Chance
Kirsten Rees is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and has come into Empire Fighting Chance to run this side of the organisation. Food is her passion. She explained: “I understand that cooking brings nutrition to life. It is one part of what I call a ‘soil to soul’ journey. A food journey that will create an inspiring and empowering experience for our young people.”

A lack of understanding, knowledge and access to healthy choices is a real challenge in society, and one that directly affects young people and their development. Kirsten continued: “Doug Wanstall said ‘We have a food system that pays no attention to health and a health system that pays no attention to food.’

And for me this speaks to the heart of what drives my passion to inspire and empower young people with the knowledge to understand the relationship between their food and their health. This will include the critical analysis needed to distinguish between a quick fix money making food fads and science informed solutions.”

Support staff from St Monica's Trust helping prepare a meal with young people from Empire Fighting Chance


For Kirsten it is a time for radical change on how we see food, not just skirting around the edges and window dressing. She continued :“Our health is going backwards.  The Academy of Medical Sciences tells us health among the under-fives in the UK is worsening and needs to be urgently addressed.

It says society is betraying children and the problems are limiting their future and damaging economic prosperity. This is symptomatic of the whole of society, and I see this in my Nutrition and Movement clinics weekly.”

So how will Kirsten apply this to young people she works with at Empire, and what does she hope to do and achieve? “What we eat plays a key role in this. We are increasingly aware of the health damage being done by ultra-processed foodstuffs and substitutes.

So now is the time to fully understand how real food creates a pathway to healing our individual, family, community and our city health,” she said, “and I want to show people how to use understand ingredients and cook with fresh whole ingredients. The simple act of cooking connects the science of nutrition to real life behaviours and life outcomes.”

Tanieka from Empire Fighting Chance prepares a chicken curry
The plan is to reconnect young people with the food they consume, educate on where it comes from, it’s health benefits and challenges, and how it impacts on the body and mind. And get them cooking! Kirsten explained: “We need to reconnect people with what is going into their bodies. On a profound level, it’s at the heart of the relationship between personal and planetary health. 

My hope in integrating food education and nutrition into Empire's already incredible work is to inspire and empower our young people to reconnect with their food, their health and the world around them.”

A nutritious meal is served to guests at the cafe at St Monica's Trust
One recent example of this was when she took a group of young people to St Monica Wills House Retirement Village in Bristol – a partnership with St Monica's Trust and with apron's provided by Pattersons. This was a great opportunity for young people to learn about ingredients and cook a nutritional meal.

The chef Adrian Kirkman opened up their industrial sized kitchen to do six cooking sessions with Empire's young people. With ten young people engaged, it was a wondow into the work Kirsten is trying to implement, “The highlight of the session for me was when we all sat down together around a table and ate our delicious & colourful curry. This is the essence of connecting to humanity, building basic life skills that we have lost as a society.”

And this work is about linking young people to the Box Careers programme also, where forming partnerships with food organisations, restaurants, and charities for valuable work experience, life skills, and opportunities. St Monicas Trust said : “This dove tails into our company values, with links to jobs and apprenticeship schemes and general wellbeing.

I am personally excited about the project and can see the benefits of inspiring young people to cook from scratch and enjoying eating their food. It brings happiness, wellbeing, confidence and raises self-esteem.”

The team of young people and staff from Empire Fighting Chance that took part at St Monica's Trust.
There is undoubtedly a long way to go though, and confronting this challenge is critical to the health of the nation. The British Nutritional Foundation estimates that over 50% of the calories adults consume in the UK are from ultra processed food. And in young people according to research from Cambridge University it sits even higher at 66%.

So Kirsten is on a mission. “We need a total re-balance. We need to reconnect young people with the food they consume and how it is produced so they know what is going into their bodies.

On a profound level, it’s at the heart of the relationship between personal and planetary health,” she added.

Look out for more health and nutritional programmes coming with soon with Empire Fighting Chance.