Nutrition Friendly Schools Initiative improving consumption of fruits and nutritious meals in children

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Koforidua, Sept 30, The Ghana Health Service together with the Ghana Education Service (GES) has rolled out the Nutrition Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI) a school-based health and nutrition intervention to address the burden of malnutrition among school children through the promotion intake of nutritious meals.

A Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) in a study conducted on Ghanaian students have shown that many school children in Ghana are suffering from anaemia, malnutrition and stunted growth as a result of inadequate intake of nutritious meals including fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods.

The study indicated that underweight among 13-15 years was 6.2 per cent, overweight 8.6 per cent, obesity 1.7 per cent while anaemia prevalence is highest among adolescent girls and particularly 15-19 years age group at 47.7 per cent.

Subsequently, 60 selected schools in 12 municipalities and districts were selected to implement the project on a pilot basis in the Eastern Region including New Juaben North and South, Fanteakwa North and South, Suhum and Nsawam-Adoagyiri among others and yielding desired results.

The nutrition-friendly activities involve packages focusing on the Four-Star diet leading to the institution of special days like fruit day, local dishes day, eggs a day and the Girls Iron Folate Tablets (GIFT) day where girls from 11 years are given the iron folate tablets.

Children in the beneficiary schools are very happy with the program as the various days of the observation of a particular diet have become part of the extracurricular activities in the schools, on a fruit day, the fruits are washed, cut and shared with the school children by their teachers and on the local dishes day, assorted foods are cooked in the school amidst learning and fun.

Some schools have gone ahead to cultivate school backyard gardens or farms to produce fruits and other foodstuffs to boost the project. GNA visited some schools on their turn of the fruit or egg day and noticed that teachers and students come together to cook the food and cut the fruits to share among themselves with enthusiasm.

The benefits of fruits, eggs and eating balanced diet foods and the importance of the iron folate Tablets are discussed passionately to imbibe the importance in the children and the need to make such foods part of their daily diet for healthy growth and development.

Mrs Rhoda Kyei-Yamoah, Eastern Regional Nutrition Officer of the Ghana Health Service in an interview described the project as very successful in influencing children’s nutritious intake of foods and fruits adding that the initiative is to address the triple burden of malnutrition, overweight/obesity and micronutrients deficiencies resulting in the stunted growth, anaemia and development of many diseases in children’s later years.

She said children’s consumption of fruits for instance is very critical to their health and development, “girls especially need fruits to be part of their diets to provide the necessary minerals and metabolism to ensure a healthy reproductive system as they began menstruation”.

She noted that due to myths and some cultural norms, eggs are not part of daily meals in many households “yet, eggs are part of the four-star diets relevant for some minerals key for healthy growth and development in children, especially at the adolescent ages.

As part of the training to begin the implementation, heads of the beneficiary schools were urged to engage parents as stakeholders to provide the foodstuffs, eggs and fruits weekly whiles the GHS provides the iron folate tablets supplementation free of charge.

She indicated that parent’s involvement had largely contributed to the success story, “So far we are happy with the level of cooperation by the schools and the parents who willingly provide all the essentials needed and we hope it will go a long way to help achieve the objectives of the project”.

The four-star diet is recommended by UNICEF for children and they include staples like cereals, starchy roots and tubers, legumes, fruits and vegetable sources and animal protection sources like milk and eggs.

According to a UNICEF 2019 report, 42 per cent of school-going adolescents in low- and middle-income countries consume carbonated sugary soft drinks at least once a day and at least 46 % eat fast food at least once a week, as a result, overweight and obesity levels in childhood and adolescence are increasing worldwide at an alarming rate.

From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children between 5 and 19 years doubled from 1in 10 to almost 1 in 5, ten times more boys and 12 times more girls suffer from obesity today than in 1975, according to the UNICEF report is as a result of poor dieting and feeding with no regards to the four-star diet.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, (low fruit and vegetable intake is a key risk factor for conditions such as heart diseases, cancer and obesity or weight-related diseases and is estimated to cause 2.7 million death each year.

The WHO notes that “There is strong and growing evidence that sufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables help prevent many diseases and promotes good health, especially for children”.

“Fruits have not been part of our diet, we eat them once in a while when we go to the farm with our parents during vacation, but with the fruits day program in our school I eat fruits every week and it has become part of my diet” Mercy Korang a 14-year-old Junior High School student at Begoro said.

Ms Yaa Duah, a student at the Salvation JHS in Koforidua also said “eggs and fruits have not been part of our family diet, I sometimes buy them instead of food but with the school fruits and eggs day, I have been convinced my parents to give me money to buy fruits twice every week when we are on vacation because now, I understand its importance”.

Most of the students in the implementing schools who interreacted with GNA indicated that they now use their monies to buy fruits instead of carbonated drinks and sweets, now that they know the importance of fruits to their development and want to make them part of their diet for healthy growth.

Dr Patrick Kuma Aboagye, Director-General of Ghana Health Service, in a statement on the National Guidelines for NFSI noted that healthy dietary intake and improved physical activity during childhood and adolescence reduce the risk of immediate nutrition-related health problems of primary concern adding that “optimal eating patterns and habits developed early in life are more likely to be maintained into adulthood and that underscores the importance and success of this initiative”.

 

Source: Ghana News Agency

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