Ministry works to promote student nutrition

A project to promote nutritional standards in primary schools is underway in a bid to mitigate health challenges early on in life such as overweight and obesity.

Ministry of Health Principal Nutritionist Christina Soti-Ulberg told the Samoa Observer in response to emailed questions that the project particularly targets primary schools, and would include screening children for overweight and obesity as well as underweight and overall health indicators.

“The project looks at screening children for overweight and obesity and underweight and overall health and provides intervention provided to children and community in schools,  encouraging physical activity three times a week and nutrition sessions for children three times a week,” she said.

Asked what else can be done to provide a healthy food environment for children in schools, Mrs Ulberg said ultimately it would be the community involved with the school that should help support a ‘healthy food environment’.

“The school's nutrition standards look at the involvement of all in the community, not just the health workers but teachers, school committees, parents etc to support and advocate nutrition in schools,” she added.

“Outside of schools we have policy makers and the power of food regulations to control the safety of food sold in schools.”

And the interventions by the community should not just stop there, according to the M.O.H. official, who revealed that there is a parallel program known as the PEN Fa’a Samoa Programme which raises awareness on non-communicable diseases and manages those diagnosed with an N.C.D. in the community .

Mrs Ulberg said the programme does early screen for NCD and empowers village women committees to run health assessments. 

“There are a lot of other community awareness programmes that local community can do, and have seen this through the parallel programme which is the PEN FAasamoa PRogramme runs in the villages which conducts early screening for N.C.D. and empowers village women committees to conduct health assessment of communities as well as encourage healthy eating and exercise for their respective villages.” 

The M.O.H. has also formulated health guidelines that promote healthy workplaces and catering as well as school nutrition standards, the nutritionist added. 

She said they also work with the Ministry of Women Community and Social Development to address other health areas such as sanitation and farming focused on health vegetables in villages.

“Some of the current initiatives is to focus on different campaigns for mass media awareness such as eat a rainbow campaign, smoke free campaign, and breastfeeding and 1000 days campaign, which focuses on the first 1000 days from conception to birth to 2 years which encompasses maternal and child health.”

The programmes run by the M.O.H. comes on the back of concerns expressed by members of the public including former students and a teacher at the drop in nutritional standards of food being sold in schools.

A former primary school teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Samoa Observer that they didn’t promote healthy food consumption amongst their students when she was still teaching.

“I know that I was a part of the problem because I could’ve done something but now I realize I believe that healthy foods equals a healthy mind and healthy attitude,” she said.

“I do believe what you eat can determine how you feel and perhaps this can change now that I have children. 

“I think it’s important that this can be looked at, cheaper healthier food policies for schools and colleges.”

A former student, who has completed college and didn’t want to be identified, said his college’s canteen didn't have a healthy nutritional diet that would have benefited her and her peers.

“I played netball and in the canteen we had simoi vi, orange or apple, we also had fried chicken and rice, we had fried sausage and rice, although they stopped fizzy drinks last year the children could still have access to unhealthy food outside the school, the canteen would get so many customers because of the can drinks they sold.  

“We had Doritos, bluebird chips, sold at the school many times if my friends gave me food like keke puaa (pork bun) or chips I had to accept or it would be against our Samoan custom.”

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