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A fillip for child nutrition

by damith
March 26, 2024 1:00 am 0 comment

Food is one of the basic needs of all living beings. No one can concentrate on anything if he/she is suffering from hunger and thirst. Food is essential for schoolchildren, especially those in lower grades because they cannot concentrate on studies if they are hungry.

The Education Ministry has taken steps to offer a main meal at school to every student in Grades One through Five, starting from yesterday (Monday). The decision was taken following recommendations from nutritionists. Education Minister Susil Premajayantha had given instructions to serve the breakfast between 7.30 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. before the students commence their educational activities.

The school meal programme introduced for 2024 has several objectives. These include reducing nutritional issues among school students, enhancing daily school attendance rates, instilling positive eating and health practices, promoting educational achievement levels, and supporting local food/agri initiatives.

A total of 1.6 million students will receive a free meal through this year’s school feeding programme, covering all students in primary grades of 9,134 Government schools and all schools with less than 100 students. The Government has allocated Rs. 16,600 million directly to the nine Provincial Councils and in addition, other organisations including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also provide support. There is a possibility that this could be extended to the higher grades at some point in the future.

The food required for this nutrition programme is provided by major local suppliers, which helps to strengthen the country’s manufacturing economy by creating direct and indirect jobs. Some time ago the media reported that 15.3 percent of the schoolchildren in Sri Lanka suffer from undernourishment while another 7.3 percent suffer from over nutrition. Although there are different opinions regarding these statistics, it is indisputable that there are a number of reasons that affect child nutrition in the country.

Due to the poor economic situation, parents are not able to provide nutritious food to their children. This situation has caused the nutritional levels of children to drop. And another group of children are suffering from malnutrition due to the education rat race and the restlessness the children are facing.

Children who are in school from morning till evening then go to tuition classes. Even when they come home late at night, some children have to face homework. Some children depend on short eats or a bottle of soft drink or a milk packet with a high sugar content for the whole day. They do not eat or drink following the normal patterns.

Giving a meal for the schoolchildren from grade one to five every morning before they start learning in the early morning is highly admirable. This is because a lot of schoolchildren come to the school in the morning without breakfast and they do not eat anything until the interval at 10.30 am or until they return home after school. Sometimes they eat junk food or short eats. The current financial crisis is one main reason for this situation and the other reason is the low education and knowledge level of many parents.

Many urban parents, especially young mothers, do not have any knowledge on nutrition and they think their kids need to be fed with foods and drinks that are advertised on television. They call fried rice “rice” and not the ordinary rice we eat every day. They have never heard of green leaves, sprats, Murunga curry etc. which gives complete nutrition for children at a very low price. Those mothers think fast food such as pizza, burgers, donuts etc are nutritious.

The other problem with them is their laziness. They always go for instant noodles which are purely carbohydrates and nothing else. Many young mothers are lazy or reluctant to cut green leaves and cook a nutritious meal for their kids before sending them to school. Therefore they buy anything available in fast food/short eats outlets.

There are many beverages in the market which are not healthy for children at all. Parents and kids are misled by television advertisements and always go for artificially sweetened drinks or milk packets with high levels of sugar. Most urban children and their parents do not like to drink water, king coconut, herbal porridge, plain tea etc.

The Government and the Education Ministry should pay special attention towards monitoring the implementation of all relevant circulars issued on the `school canteen policy’ because those who run school canteens islandwide totally violate this circular and sell all types of unhealthy food to schoolchildren, completely ignoring the recommended list of healthy food given by the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry.

They earn huge profits by making the future generation of this country sick with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Those individuals promise school authorities to sell the recommended food list when they start their operations but sell all unhealthy shorteats and drinks except for the recommended healthy foods such as cereals. At the moment there is no proper mechanism to stop this harmful process. But a way has to be found to counter this menace as a healthy nation is a must for any country to achieve development.

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