Generally speaking, parents and guardians pay lots of money to their children’s schools to cover the costs of school meals for their children. But, more often than not, the schools do not provide health-friendly meals that are particularly nutritious.
The same applies elsewhere – including some healthcare institutions where, surprisingly enough, meals for hospitalized children are not always health-friendly.
A study published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that the food environments to which children are exposed at home, in school, in childcare facilities, and within their communities can influence the healthfulness of their diets.
Children often eat outside the home, where they have easy access and routine exposure to large-portion sizes of foods which are high in fats and added sugars. This calls for stakeholders to support healthy food environments as a key strategy for achieving the public health goal of reducing childhood obesity.
Interventions should be at home where parents prepare meals for their children, and in schools where pupils are provided with lunch. Indeed, the Health ministry should spearhead countrywide sensitisation campaigns to promote regular intake of health-friendly meals by children.
Studies have suggested that the foods which children are exposed to at home, at school and in healthcare facilities have a long-term adverse impact on their growth and development.
It is also important to provide nutrient information on foods given to children in healthcare facilities. This enables parents to make informed choices in selecting food items on hospital menus for their hospitalised children.
If all that is done as appropriate, it should go a long, long way in decreasing the usual requirements for energy-dense foods and drinks which are not particularly rich in nutrients.
And, this way, we would have healthier children in Tanzania and beyond.