'Ban junk food and fizzy drinks from schools'

20 December 2019 - 19:15
By Prega Govender
A new study suggests banning fizzy drinks and junk food at school.
Image: 123rf A new study suggests banning fizzy drinks and junk food at school.

Health experts and academics are calling for a ban on the sale of fizzy drinks and junk food at school tuck shops, amid serious concerns over the increase in the number of overweight and obese children.

Meanwhile, pupils from six schools in Gauteng, who are working with an alliance of non-governmental organisations promoting health issues, have also proposed a month-long boycott on buying fizzy drinks at their schools.

This comes in the wake of research conducted by the department of human movement science at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, which found that 182 out of 917 pupils in eight schools, aged eight to 16 years, were either overweight or obese.

A total of 453 out of 959 pupils were categorised with very low to low fitness levels.

Findings of another study — the Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card, released last year — indicated overweight and obesity increasing in children and adolescents.

Developed by a scientific advisory group comprising 30 academics from 14 universities, the report card found food bought from tuck shops was mostly of poor nutritional value.

It also found meals provided to the country's 9.6 million pupils at government schools through the National School Nutrition Programme were “less than optimal”.

However, basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the feeding scheme provided nutritious meals to pupils and that the menu was done in consultation with the health department.

Danielle Smith, the SA coordinator for the KaziBantu project at Nelson Mandela University, said at least 21 out of the 127 pupils in the 12-year-old age group were either overweight or obese.

Professor Jon Patricios, a sports and exercise medicine physician at Wits, said the Nelson Mandela University's research findings were not surprising.

He said it was of grave concern that children were not physically active, adding: ''Children by their very nature should be on the move for much of the day. To see this inactivity so early is alarming.”

Professor Zandile Mchiza, an obesity, nutrition and non-communicable disease research specialist at the University of the Western Cape, said she would also endorse a ban on the sale of fizzy drinks and junk foods at school tuck shops.

''Obesity among children is a big cause for concern because the majority of them become obese adults if there is no intervention.''

Research conducted by the Healthy Living Alliance last year at 61 schools in Soweto and on the East Rand, found the vetkoek and the kota — a quarter loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with atchar, polony, slap chips, cheese, egg and sausage — were most popular.

Coordinator Mary-Jane Matsolo, said pupils from three Tembisa schools, who were educated about the dangers of non-communicable diseases, had proposed ''a month-long shutdown'' on the buying and consuming of fizzy drinks.

Analucia Steyn, owner of Knysna Primary School's tuck shop in the southern Cape, said she did not sell fizzy drinks to pupils — only water, fruit juices and yoghurt.

“Teachers say they are seeing a difference, especially in the little ones. They say that they are sitting down and concentrating.”