Study highlights school nutrition challenges

A study on school food policy in Samoa has shown that while health policymakers and leaders want better nutrition in schools, several obstacles continue to stand in change's way. 

The case study on food and health policy in Samoa, was published in a peer-reviewed United Kingdom academic journal archive, BMC Public Health, earlier this year.  

The study took a qualitative approach to assessing the strength of existing attempts to improve food policy in schools. 

In 2018, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 informants.

The interviews were coupled with an analysis of relevant policy documents, to gain an understanding of food policy processes in Samoa.

The study concluded that key issues negatively impacting Government healthy eating policy was the lack of priority given to scrutinising where food given to schools was sourced from. 

The high prevalence of unhealthy food in the areas immediately surrounding schools, and whether doctors around schools were proactive in promoting nutrition were also listed as key factors.

The study found that implementing effective healthy food policies in school settings is challenging, especially when the broader food environment outside of school is not conducive to healthier eating. 

Strong commitment from policy leaders was also listed as a key factor for promoting healthy nutrition in schools. 

“Even in contexts where there is political will and high-level support for healthy food policies in schools, policy dissemination, training and monitoring is unlikely to lead to successful implementation without powerful incentives for adoption at the local level and effective enforcement,” the study concluded. 

It also highlighted the need for policy leaders to proactively address potential implementation issues, such as a lack of resources and capacity and to ensure accountability was made part of policy development.

The study on school food policy in Samoa has relevance for other Small Island Developing States (S.I.D.S.) seeking to prevent childhood obesity.

“In the context of limited resources, countries must prioritize nutrition-promotion within institutions with the greatest influence on children’s health and lifestyle development," the authors wrote. 

“There is potential to capitalize on the significant political will for preventing diet-related [Non-communicable diseases] NCDs in many S.I.D.S. by more clearly demonstrating the institutional and operational requirements needed for effective and sustained implementation of school food policies.

“Sustained and effective implementation of healthy school food policies requires continued engagement from political and community leaders, beyond initial commitment.

"Furthermore, there is potential to capitalize on political will for diet-related NCD [non-communicable disease] prevention by more clearly demonstrating the institutional and operational requirements for effective and sustained implementation."

Ultimately making schools compliant with policy and effectively enforcing it were crucial to its success, the authors found. 

The study's complete title reads: "Identifying opportunities to strengthen school food environments in the Pacific: a case study in Samoa".

The authors include: Erica Reeve; Erica Reeve, Gary Sacks, Colin Bell of Deakin University; Anne-Marie Thow of the University of Sydney; and Christina Soti-Ulberg of the Ministry of Health, Samoa.

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