Health officials across the Caribbean are looking to promote stricter guidelines on the types of food allowed for sale at schools, as part of their efforts to minimize the risk of obesity among youth.
This was one of the suggestions raised at a meeting of regional stakeholders earlier this month to discuss ways to reduce childhood obesity.
Senior Technical Officer for Food Security and Nutrition at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Christine Bocage said one step that can be taken is for schools to implement food and nutrition policies that are linked to nutritional guidelines for children.
“So, basically it’s saying in our schools there are certain foods we are allowing you to offer to the children, not just for sale, but what is offered in the school feeding programme or if there’s any other means of offering children foods [at] the school, if it’s not a vendor outside or a restaurant nearby,” Bocage said.
She said they will also make recommendations on the types of foods that should be restricted for sale to about two days a week, as well as those that should be banned altogether.
Bocage noted that Barbados is “ahead of the game” in setting guidelines, but said she would like to see other countries adopting practices and policies to protect children’s health.
“The standards are really technical guidelines and technical recommendations, and these go with guidelines where we focus on recipes and portion sizes and examples of foods from the different categories, so the lay person can understand what we can sell and what we can’t sell.
“And I think it’s a positive move because . . . the children are spending quite a few hours in schools, and if we can reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages that they have in schools, for instance, we are reducing the amount of calories that they are going to be taking in, in one particular day,” she said.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Cabinet has approved a ban on the sale of soft drinks at government and government-assisted primary and secondary schools, effective April 1.
This is part of a drive to promote a healthy lifestyle among students. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced that he also plans to roll out “serious polices” to ensure that the nation’s children are healthy.
The initiative has been hailed as a positive move by Bocage, who believes other countries can adopt similar measures in the interest of their children’s health.
“Some countries have done it before so we can probably do it in other schools as well, linked to school policies and other areas of concern so that we can have a supportive environment, so that we can reduce childhood obesity,” Bocage said.
In addition to efforts by health officials, students across the island will have an opportunity to learn more about healthy food options this weekend, with the staging of Agrofest, the annual agricultural expo.