Administrators, students hope education will help drive school nutrition policy
Principals and students participating in a health forum last Thursday expressed hope that when the Government implements its school nutrition policy, it will consider measures to educate students on the importance of consuming nutritious meals as a key component.
The policy, which sets nutritional standards and recommendations to offer healthier eating options for students from early childhood through to high school, is expected to be submitted as a policy document in April.
Dr Sharon Dawson, training and education nutritionist in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said consultations were held with stakeholders to ensure a seamless implementation.
She also lauded manufacturers who have already taken steps to reduce the sugar content in their products.
As is the case in other countries where such similar regulations were enacted, Dawkins said that after the implementation of the policy, she expects to see a decline in Jamaica’s child obesity rate, which is currently 23 per cent.
“Let’s put it this way. I you normally go to school, and you’d have two box juices that would normally have 30 grams of sugar, then you are looking at 60 grams of sugar. Now if you’re still getting a box drink, but you are getting 2.5 grams of sugar, and you have two, it’s still five grams of sugar as opposed to having 60 grams,” she said at the healthy youth forum hosted by the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters in St Andrew.
But arguing that many students do not know enough about the things they put into their bodies, St Jago High School student and vice-president of the National Secondary Schools Students’ Council, Xavier Walker told The Gleaner that a lot of effort will need to be put into sensitising the youth.
“The reality is the policy can be made, but the effect of it might not be seen on the ground. What I would love is that after the policy is passed, then we would see a lot of face-to-face efforts to sensitise the students,” he said.
It is a view shared by Marcus Garvey Technical High School Principal Anniona Jones, who believes that students should be empowered to make important decisions for their health.
“Education is critical. The truth of the matter is we need to teach children how to cook [and] how to prepare food using what’s available. We need to really and truly start thinking about the realities of our children. We need to empower them with that information and those skills that they can make decisions within the scope of their influence and their authority,” she said.
Jones said that her institution has taken the initiative to educate students about nutrition and has also tangible programmes such as a school farm, but more support is needed.
“Let’s stop talking around the issue, and let us look at the reality of what it takes to make it happen on the ground. Can we cut out some of the ridiculous content on the ground and really start to empower the children with the reality of what they need to learn?” she asked rhetorically.
One of her pupils, fourth-form student Romar Matthie, called for extensive monitoring of the policy when enacted.
“You don’t want students to be obese or to be unhealthy. You want to enforce the things that they can consume so that they can be fit,” he said.
A report in the British Medical Journal 2022 linked ultra-processed food intake to excess body fat, overweight, and obesity in adults and children.
Sharing her concern about the ease of access to unhealthy food in and around the school community, including those sold by vendors, Marcus Garvey Technical fourth-former Akera Pink told The Gleaner that she would like to see a restriction on such products.
“I think they should be banned. I don’t agree with it ... . Too much sweets and snacks. It gives them (students) too much energy too early in the morning before school starts,” she said.