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Education ministry to roll out nutritional guidelines for schools in September

Observer staff reporter

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

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A policy that will speak to nutritional guidelines in schools is expected to be rolled out in September, says Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid.

Reid was speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday in relation to the 2017 National Council on Drug Abuse Jamaica School Health Survey, which indicates that since 2010 when the last survey was conducted, there has been an increase in the obesity rates among adolescents and no changes in fast-food and sugary drink consumption.

The 2017 survey, which measured behavioural risk and protective factors among 1,667 students 13 to 17 years old in 41 schools islandwide, revealed that 24 per cent of students (400) were overweight and nine per cent (150) obese. Of this number, more girls than boys were both obese and overweight, with 28 per cent of females being overweight and 10 per cent being obese, as opposed to 20 per cent of males being overweight and nine per cent obese.

The survey also revealed that 68 per cent of participating students were drinking carbonated drinks one or more times per day, over 50 per cent ate fast food one or more days per week, and 20 per cent spent more than eight hours per day sitting. Over 60 per cent reported that they ate fruits and vegetables one or more times per day.

Reid was also addressing remarks made by bariatric surgeon Dr Alfred Dawes that schools play a major role in this reality, when they hand over their canteens to fast-food restaurants.

“Already, Jamaica has one of the fastest-growing rates of obesity in the world at an average of one per cent of the population becoming overweight or obese every year over the last 10 years, and we are only worsening this by exposing children to poor eating habits from an early age, at a time when they are forming habits that they will take with them throughout adulthood,” Dr Dawes said.

“Obese children have a higher risk of being obese in adulthood and a higher rate of developing diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle diseases. We are creating a medium- to long-term crisis if we don't target children with our interventions,” he argued.

According to Reid, Jamaica, in years gone by, has not had a persistent and consistent message regarding healthy lifestyles and good nutritional practices, which unfortunately has affected the country's schools.

“The existence of fast-food restaurants and franchising has become a norm in Jamaica, over recent times, and schools have found it far more efficient to offer the franchising of their canteens to these fast-food chains. Unfortunately, it occurred in the absence of clear policy guidelines and this is something I am aware of. We've had consultations with the IDB (Inter-America Development Bank) to develop nutritional guidelines in schools,” he said. “That has to be done with more comprehensive policies and so the Ministry of Health (MOH) and myself are in discussions about rolling out that policy.

“I wanted IDB support to roll out that policy for the new year, but now we are collaborating with MOH to come out with a comprehensive nutritional policy guideline, supported and directed through the MOH with our support. It will form a policy approved by Cabinet that we will insist that all schools will have to follow these guidelines. So we will see existing contracts that the franchises within schools will have to comply with,” Reid said.

The education minister added that the consultations are advanced with approximately two meetings left, and that the roll-out is on target for the new school year.

As part of his own advocacy, in agreement with Dr Dawes' comment, Reid pointed out that the policy guidelines will insist that nutritional characteristics as well as recommended servings of meals and products sold are displayed in canteens, so students can make informed decisions.

“The amount of calories that the meals contain and also the recommended calories for males and females per day have to be stated so they are aware of what they're eating and to ensure they are not overeating,” he shared.

The education minister said, equally, he is supporting the health ministry's call for mandatory sports in schools, as alongside diet, physical activity and exercise in schools must be increased to curb issues of overweight children and obesity.

“We support that call and we are working now to give the schools our guidelines where that is concerned. We must, as a culture, encourage sports and physical activity in the process of teaching and learning and not just have our students planted in their chairs in each class. We need to allow for walks across the campus, environmental tours and a lot of play and physical activities must be characteristic within our schools at all levels,” Reid said.

Additionally, he said when the policy is promulgated there will be compliance officers to keep schools accountable.

“In our inspection of schools we are going to invigilate. We are not just going to say this is the policy. We will have a system that we do our regular audit of schools to ensure they are compliant,” he said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said the school health survey indicates clearly that more must be done to address both physical inactivity and consumption habits among the younger population.

He also said Jamaica Moves will be going into schools this year to assist students to make smarter choices.




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