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Hayatona: Only healthy food in school canteen
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 31 - 08 - 2012


Amal Al-Sibai
Saudi Gazette
To give our students a head start to a healthy and successful school year, the Charitable Society for Health Communication, Hayatona (life), has already made several recommendations to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to protect the health of our children.
Among the recommendations announced by Hayatona that pertain to the health of the nation's students is that the weight of the students' backpacks including the books should not exceed 15 to 20 percent of the child's body weight. Heavy schoolbags can cause pain in the back, shoulders, and neck, can interfere with proper balance and posture, and in extreme cases can inhibit normal growth. School administrations should provide lockers in schools for students to keep their books safely, rather than carrying them back and fro from school everyday.
Hayatona further warned of the deterioration of the health of the nation's children as a result of the poor nutrient quality of foods sold at the school canteen. Parents have been complaining for years that the foods their children buy at school are high in fat and calories. The MoE should place stricter regulations on the types of foods allowed in the school canteen, and regular inspections should be scheduled to ensure the compliance of all schools.
Often, fried foods rich in oils and fats, such as doughnuts, French fries, and potato chips are a mainstay of the meals and snacks that students have access to at school. No doubt, regularly eating these unhealthy foods at school has played a significant role in the increase in childhood obesity in the Kingdom. Consuming heavy foods rich in fat and low in essential vitamins and minerals contribute toward laziness.
More variety should be found at the school canteen, such as, fruits, dates, milk, yogurt, nutritious sandwiches, among others. Junk foods like candy bars, carbonated beverages, and potato chips should be banned from schools.
The General Secretary of Hayatona, Abdul Rahman Al-Qahtani, said, “Investing in the health of children and adolescents is one of the most important strategies of the organization, because the youth are the leaders of the future. We must double our efforts in raising health awareness among the younger generation especially because the Kingdom is currently witnessing a disturbing increase in childhood obesity, diabetes, and lack of physical activity, not to mention the growing trend of smoking in children and teenagers."
If the direction of the health of the younger population in the Kingdom today is not altered soon enough, we could be heading toward serious health dangers in the near future.
Furthermore, teachers who interact with young children on a daily basis should seize every opportunity to promote better health awareness. Encouraging healthy eating and lifestyle practices can be introduced by recommending additional reading, suggesting class discussions, giving short presentations during the morning assembly, inviting a dietician as a guest speaker, and participating in extracurricular activities related to health and nutrition.
The organization's message to parents is to teach healthy eating practices at home and discourage junk foods stripped of any positive nutritional quality. Regular sight and hearing check-ups are also necessary to help detect any problems early on in order to avoid learning difficulties that could lead to poor academic performance.
The Chairman and Head of the board of directors of Hayatona, Saleh Saad Al-Ansari, said their vision is to become an exemplary organization in spreading health awareness.


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