Time for New Zealand to focus on the health of our children

By Amanda Johnson 04/11/2010

A brand new position statement was launched in the United States this week (1 November 2010) by the American Dietetic Association, School Nutrition Association and Society for Nutrition Education, which looked at providing comprehensive school nutrition services.

The abstract of the paper states that, ’It is the position of the American Dietetic Association, School Nutrition Association and Society for Nutrition Education that comprehensive, integrated nutrition services in schools, kindergarten through grade 12, are an essential component of coordinated school health programs that will improve the nutritional status, health and academic performance of our nation’s children. Local school wellness policies may strengthen comprehensive nutrition services in schools by providing opportunities for multidisciplinary teams to identify and address local school needs.’

So, we have some top American organisations, having reviewed the evidence, stating quite clearly that good nutrition can have a significant impact on children in terms of their health and academic performance at school! Why then are the food intake and health and wellbeing of our school children not a big priority in New Zealand?

It was great to see increased funding announced for bariatric surgery last week — this will certainly help those in our society who are morbidly obese in terms of reducing their weight and improving their health — but surely it makes sense to start right at the beginning in schools. Educating children about healthy food, and providing healthy food policies that ensure children are eating an optimal diet and developing healthy habits that will last throughout their lives, will certainly prevent so many of our young people growing into obese adults. This will reduce the need for such expensive procedures as bariatric surgery in the first place.

The Americans are recommending goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other activities to promote wellness, nutrition guidelines for school meals, a plan for measuring the implementation of the local wellness policy and the involvement of parents, students, school boards, school administration and public representatives in the development of the local wellness policy.

This all makes a huge amount of sense and it is something we should be considering in New Zealand schools. As a starting point, surely we should at least bring back National Administration Guideline 5, which required that each board of trustees promote healthy food and nutrition for all students! Anne Tolley’s suggestion that this involved schools acting as the ‘food police’ is a pretty poor excuse not to tackle this important issue.

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