Saturday, July 2, 2016

Malaysia - Holistic approach to health

WHEN findings suggest that children are becoming increasingly obese, there is an urgent need to find out why this is so. Studies, involving more than 8,500 primary and secondary school students nationwide, by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia revealed that almost 30 per cent of children and teenagers aged between 6 and 17 years are either overweight or obese.

The alarming figure indicates a dietary problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Naturally, parents are the first point of blame. They, more than anyone, ought to know what is best for their children, and by logic, they should. And, yet, there are parents who subscribe to the traditional notion of fat children as being a status symbol, a sign that the parents are reasonably affluent. In this respect then, there has to be better public education, one that stresses on a healthy diet and not merely the feeding of children. But how?

What are sold in supermarkets are not exactly nutritional foods, most on the shelves are processed foods soaking in preservatives, additives and unhealthy sugars, like corn syrup. Health authorities must come up with a programme that reaches out to parents on nutritional information. Authorities, too, must take control of school canteens.

Some schools are conscientious and control what is sold in the canteens. In fact, there are schools that actually charge parents a nominal monthly or semester payment for providing the right kind of food. Others, though, leave it to the canteen operators. Often, these operators dish out processed food like sausages and chicken nuggets. If, at all food is prepared, it would be fried noodles and rice that have little nutritional value.

There is hardly any control to ensure that children are served the right foods. There is also the problem of vendors waiting outside schools. Indeed, there are signs forbidding hawkers, but there is no attempt at enforcement. These are matters that should be taken up by the parent-teacher associations.

Obesity is undermined by physical activity. Sports is an essential component that must be increased for its multi-pronged purposes of health, character building and competitive spirit. With more schools becoming single session, accommodating more sporting activities should be possible. For children who are not sports-active, increasing the period of physical education classes, too, can help. Children should be active at least 60 minutes a day as recommended by nutrition experts.

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, meanwhile, is worried about malnutrition among Malaysian schoolchildren. Obesity and malnutrition, according to the agency, are related. Junk food is fattening and does not contain any nutritional values. But, if mothers must go out to work, which the government encourages and, consumerism is compelling, which the government promotes for the economy, then somebody must compensate for the “neglect” of Malaysia’s children.

Should it not be mandatory for all schools to provide nutritious meals for the children? What happened to the policy that was intended to ensure healthy school canteen menus, for example?

If Malaysia aspires to be modern, then, in an area so fundamental to the country’s future wellbeing, a more holistic approach to education and health of her children, should be the agenda in human capital development.

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