Promoting Healthy Lifestyles for Children in South Africa through Nutrition Education, Physical Activity and School Gardens
South Africa is facing a public health crisis as obesity rates rise while hunger and malnutrition persist for too many. The problem is complex, but the Health in Action program is tackling it through a common-sense approach to help build a healthier future for South Africa’s children. Through this school-based program, children will learn and absorb educational messages about nutrition, physical activity and healthy lifestyles through hands-on, skills-based activities, including the development of school gardens that provide nutritious fresh produce to supplement school meals.
The Health in Action program is reaching more than 100,000 primary school children ages 6 through 12 years old in 116 schools in 13 at-risk communities in the Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth areas.
This new program is based on the successful initiative of the same name that INMED, with support from the Mondelēz International Foundation, has carried out in Brazil since 2010, improving nutrition and physical activity habits among more than 382,000 children in more than 1,000 schools. In South Africa, the objectives of the Health in Action program are to:
- Promote sustainable improvements in children’s health and nutritional status through participatory education and activities on nutrition, physical activity and healthy lifestyles, including hygiene and sanitation. Selected lead teachers will be trained as “multipliers” who train their colleagues in the program topics.
- Improve nutrition and reduce hunger by increasing access to fresh produce through the establishment of school, home and community gardens, and through the installation of a large aquaponic system in each project province to serve as a learning tool and source of abundant fresh produce and nutritious fish protein to supplement meals in targeted schools. “Garden champions” selected by school governing boards from among local unemployed youth will lead garden caretaking activities, including organizing other volunteers to help.
- Increase participation in physical activity, both through school-based physical education and leisure time recreation and play, with an emphasis on making activity fun so that it becomes a welcome habit. “Recess buddies” selected by school governing boards from among local unemployed youth will help encourage children to take an active part in recess time by guiding activities and monitoring safety.
- Promote positive changes in the school food environment, including advocacy for compliance with government feeding program mandates, training school food workers in food hygiene and preparation of nutritious meals incorporating garden produce, providing basic food preparation supplies where needed, and working with snack vendors who sell to school children to offer healthier food options.
- Build the foundation for long-term sustainability by actively involving parents and community members, local and state government, academic institutions, other non-governmental and community-based organizations, and private-sector entities as partners in the development, implementation and ongoing support of the program and the healthy lifestyles messages it promotes.
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