Overweight and obesity statistics, where they exist for Queensland children, tend to mirror those of the adult population, with children living in rural, regional and remote parts of the State consistently recording levels higher than the State average.
A nutrition and healthy lifestyle program called Tucka-Time, however, has been having a real impact upon the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families. Developed by the Centre for Rural & Regional Indigenous Health (previously known as Central Queensland Regional Aboriginal and Islander Community Controlled Health Organisation, based in Gladstone), Tucka-Time is currently being delivered in six Queensland schools with the support of Queensland-based not-for-profit health organisation CheckUP, and in collaboration with local Aboriginal Medical Services.
Run over a 10-week school term, the Tucka-Time program combines fun, hands-on experiences such as cooking classes and a tour of a local supermarket, with nutrition and social and emotional wellbeing information sessions delivered by a dietitian and psychologist. Two-hour sessions are held each week and can be held in class time or after school, as part of an after-school program or homework club. Students are provided with a Tucka-Time branded apron, bandana and recipe book, and upon graduation from the program, also receive a pack of cooking utensils to take home for their own use.
The program is delivered by local facilitators, community-based health workers employed by Aboriginal Medical Services, who have completed training with the Centre’s Melena McKeown, who developed and continues to run the program throughout central Queensland. The local facilitators coordinate the program in collaboration with teachers from participating schools and lead each Tucka-Time session.
Visits by a dietitian and psychologist to present their information sessions are coordinated by CheckUP. Students in the program range from Year 3 to Year 10 level and the content of the sessions can be adapted to the age of the participants. Some schools have also integrated the program into their curriculum and the units being studied by the class that term.
To measure the impact of Tucka-Time, students and class teachers complete an evaluation survey at the commencement and conclusion of the ten week program, to determine if there has been any change in students’ knowledge and behaviours.
At the midpoint of this three year project, evaluation of the student surveys is consistently revealing a real increase in the students’ knowledge about food and healthy food options. They are also demonstrating an increase in both self-confidence and willingness to help prepare meals at home with their families.
Parents also provide feedback three months after the program to determine whether their child has spoken to them about Tucka-Time and has shown any change in their behaviours at home (most particularly around their food choices and cooking). All parents surveyed have been very positive and speak about how much their child loves the program, especially the cooking component, and how they now like to help with preparing meals for the family.
One parent in Townsville noted, “William absolutely loved Tucka-Time - he spoke about it all the time. He even made the quiche for his grandmother's church group."
Some parents also speak about how their children now assist them with the grocery shopping and comment on foods that may contain too much sugar, for example. One mother admitted that she had learnt a lot from the program as well.
The success of the Tucka-Time program is that students enjoy and engage with the program, they are increasing their knowledge about nutrition and what their bodies need to ‘grow, glow and go’ and are also learning new skills. They are retaining that knowledge and taking it home and sharing it with their families.
The six participating Tucka-Time schools and their facilitator organisations are:
• Vincent State School (Townsville) – Townsville Aboriginal and Islanders Health Service (TAIHS);
• Cunnamulla State School – Cunnamulla Aboriginal Corporation for Health;
• Tagai College Thursday Island Primary Campus – Mura Kosker Sorority Inc;
• Heatley State School (Townsville) – TAIHS;
• Bwgcolman Community School (Palm Island) – Palm Island Community Company; and
• Djarragun College (Gordonvale) – Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service.
The program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.