A recent report has shown that South African children are vulnerable to a lack of healthy eating and nutrition, with only around 16% of their daily energy needs being met from school meals.
the “Food Security in Schools” A paper in the 2020 South African Child Gauge identified gaps in the implementation of government policies to encourage physical activity among youth.
School menus in Eastern Cape revealed that typical meals do not meet the daily nutritional needs of school children. These meals are also increasingly becoming a snack.
The report warns that eating too few vegetables and fruits increases the risk of micronutrient deficiencies.
food intake and intelligence
the Birth to 20 Cohort Study tracked the dietary habits of a large group of urban youth in Soweto, Johannesburg, for four years. It showed irregular breakfast consumption, infrequent family meals, and frequent consumption of fast food, sugary drinks, and high-energy school tuck shop items.
Mpho Tshukudu, a nutritionist for over 20 years, said it’s important for parents to remember that a child’s nutritional health begins as early as pregnancy. She said the first 1,000 days are important because they determine the baby’s growth, weight and development.
Tshukudu said the food children eat is directly related to their ability to focus throughout the day. She said the brain needs good carbohydrates to function optimally.
“Fast digesting things like corn and bread aren’t good, but things like whole grains, sorghum and beans are. Portions of whole vegetables and fruits are better substitutes than fruit juice. Children also need essential fats, which can be provided via sardines, pork chops, salmon, corn, nuts and seeds,” she said.
How sugar affects a child’s brain
Tshukudu warned that too much sugar is bad for a child’s brain. The rapid digestion of starch causes sugar levels to spike rapidly, resulting in a sudden burst of energy throughout the body. And when the sugar level drops, the child can have trouble concentrating.
“You will often hear your teacher make comments about a child not finishing their work or disturbing other children in the class – it has to do with the food they are eating. Avoid refined carbs because after lunch all the sugar goes to the brain and causes hyperactivity or unstable moods.”
get through the school day
According to a national study, one-third of teens ate low-micronutrient, salty snacks daily. Intakes of vegetables and fruits were generally low and lowest in poor households. These findings are indicative of food insecurity and poor micronutrient status.
“Healthy lunches and snacks don’t have to be expensive. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are some items that can be bought in bulk and shared with friends and family. Eggs are a good source of protein instead of polony or viennes,” Tshukudu said.
Tuck shops need to change
dr Portia Mutevedzi, a senior epidemiologist at Wits, said schools could play a stronger role in managing children’s diets.
“If schools had regulations about the type of food sold in tuck shops, it would play a big role in controlling their consumption of unhealthy snacks,” Mutevedzi said.
Tshukudu agreed that schools could play an important role in feeding children.
“Some children drink artificial, fizzy drinks because clean drinking water is not readily available. They also end up buying unhealthy snacks like chips, fish and polony,” she said.
Tshukudu said more education and awareness about healthy eating is needed.
“Buying an apple from a street vendor for R3 is still better than buying a pack of chips.” – Health e-news