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Why only wai? Let's give schools healthy food alongside drinks - HCA

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Government’s proposal for all primary schools to be sugary beverage free is seen as a baby step by health experts, with Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) nutritionists saying the proposal needs to apply to all schools, and include healthy food.

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced a plan to regulate primary schools to be sugary-drink free. Consultation begins today.

"The reality is most primary schools are already fizz-free, so regulating them will make very little difference," HCA Chair Boyd Swinburn said

"High schools and healthy food in schools is the real next fight to protect children’s food environments on school grounds. In 2016 data, just a quarter of secondary schools had only healthy beverages.

"Twenty-five per cent of all schools are covered by the free healthy school lunches program Ka Ora, Ka Ako which already has nutrition principles for food and drink. The Government could use these existing principles to cover healthy food, not just drinks, in all schools for children of all ages.

"As the government changes, we go back and forth on the issue of child nutrition. Much stronger policies than the proposal announced today were introduced in 2008, only to see them removed with a change of government.

"The food and drinks we serve to children and allow on school grounds is an essential health issue. Setting a national policy in regulations for healthy food and drink in schools makes it easier for school boards and principals, rather than having to revisit it individually every few years. This consultation is run by the Ministry of Education and aimed at schools, but equally, we encourage health professionals to submit, as our public health experts will be doing."

Dietician Mafi Funaki-Tahifote says removing sugary drinks from schools is a step in the right direction. She encourages communities to rally behind the consultation, to apply it to all schools.

"We have a saying in Pacific communities that it takes a village to raise a child, and the school is a big part of that village," she said.

"Families I have worked with to remove sugary drinks from their diet have reported the children have better concentration, which is an excellent boost for schools.

"It is not just about health, but well-being. If children feel better, they do better at school and feel better about themselves."

Funaki-Tahifote says the next layer for protecting children in their communities and day-to-day lives is a law to prevent the advertising of sugary drinks and unhealthy kai around schools.

"When kids are walking to school, they are walking past many triggers for sugary drinks in the form of advertising material," she said.

"If we restrict advertising around schools for sugary drinks, up to 500 meters, children’s eyes won’t be bombarded with colourful drinks when they step out the school gates. Healthy zones around schools and kura supports families to normalise healthy food and drink choices.

The consultation is open until the 2 nd of June and Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Food Policy Expert Panel will be engaging with the process. HCA encourages interested nutritionists and public health experts to submit, and contact info@healthcoalition.org.nz for more information.

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