Zespri employees in Mount Maunganui left their desks this week to serve smoothies and science, cook porridge and play games alongside students from Arataki School.
Their efforts were part of a five-day health promotion and type 2 diabetes prevention programme that focused largely on the school's 91-pupil bilingual Kopukairoa unit.
The programme was created and funded by the global kiwifruit marketing company after two Zespri employees decided to tackle statistics showing Maori children are 50 per cent more likely than their European schoolmates to develop preventable diabetes.
One of those employees, nutrition scientist Juliet Ansell, visited Arataki School on Monday to teach students how to ward off the disease.
“The kids are loving it,” Kopukairoa lead teacher Tania Solomona said after the scientist's visit. “They're so engaged and so excited.”
By day two, children were talking about the need to set aside fizzy drinks in favour of water and understood what food they should consume more often. The week also included dance lessons and a community games day to reinforce the need for exercise.
Whanau were encouraged to attend the healthy smoothie and porridge breakfast on world diabetes day (November 14), when rows of eager children sat at long tables in the school hall to be served by Zespri staff.
Food was donated by Fonterra, Harroways and Dole. Mrs Solomona and others demonstrated the effects of food on blood sugar by taking finger-prick blood tests before and after they ate.
She hoped students would share what they had learned with their families.
“I think information is power,” she said. “If we can empower these kids with this knowledge, they're not going to be in that 50 per cent who get the disease.”
The school had previously spoken with the children about litter-free lunchboxes and what a nutritious lunch looks like. Staff will continue to reinforce this week's messages during the rest of the term.
Introducing the children to role models such as the visiting nutrition doctor and scientist had additional benefits, offering them possible career choices.
“It's putting it in real life context, because they see these adults and they are seeing that with hard work and determination and goal setting, they could do all these things one day.
“It's about lifestyle choices, about reinforcing the power they have over their health.”
The week ended with the creation of a bilingual book on diabetes, penned by local writer Debbie McCauley and illustrated by the children. Once published, the school will receive copies of the book.