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Educator wants healthy fast food options

By Charlina Tone APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 29, 2010) - A pre-school principal wants fast food restaurants to produce healthier food options for children.

"Some of the parents are in a rush in the morning and don’t have time to make a meal so they stop at fast food restaurants and buy unhealthy meals for the kids," said Sogi pre School principal Sifala Sagaga Asi.

A quick inspection of her students’ lunches revealed that the majority of them brought fish and chips.

"We try our best to encourage the parents not to buy them but the kids still bring them anyway," she said.

"I hope they will start banning them completely."

She wants to see control of the type of food offered to young children by fast food restaurants because the food now available is very unhealthy.

Her worries follow the announcement of another program underway to address the ever increasing problem of child obesity.

Principal Nutritionist.Christine Questec said there are no immediate plans for fast food restaurants to offer healthier food options for children.

"There are control measures for fast food restaurants that we have started looking at," she said.

However none of these measures have been put in place and principals like Ms. Asi will not only have to educate students but remind and encourage them to bring healthier lunches.

The number of Samoan children suffering from obesity is increasing.

From 1979 to 2003, the number of overweight children increased fourfold in boys and eightfold in girls, as shown by a National Health Services survey.

85.2 percent of Samoans are either overweight or obese, and the Pacific holds the world record for obesity at 80 percent.

One in every five Samoan adults (25-64) suffers from diabetes.

"Not enough focus is placed on the risks of non communicable diseases compared to transmittable diseases," said Mrs Quested.

"NCD’s are just as serious."

Starting with pre schools around the country a policy to ban all unhealthy food items from a child’s daily lunch is on top of the list.

"A program set up before had a similar standard, however the Ministry conducted spot checks for schools and unfortunately this program is lapsing," she said.

What makes the Healthy Diet Training Program any different from similar programs put in place before?

According to Mrs. Quested more focus will be placed on taking action rather than just creating awareness.

This includes the need for more pro active teachers that will practice eating healthy food at school in front of the children.

A recent study has shown that Samoan children’s intake of fruit and vegetables is low.

Raising the standard of locally produced healthy food will ensure that children will stop looking down on fruit and vegetables and not be ashamed to include them in their lunch menus.

The Consumption of fruits and vegetables has shown to have a direct link in cutting the risk of death from NCD’s.

Some foods available in Samoa now were unheard of 30 years ago.

"Some of us have no experience in dealing with the new food types and are unaware of how unhealthy they are," said Mrs Quested.

"Telling students not to bring them is not enough. It needs to be enforced. "

The fat content and salt level of some of the processed foods is more than three times the amount required for an average person, she said.

On a regional basis, Mrs. Questec said there are plans to address the manufacturers and ask them to put less salt in their food.

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