An innovative school-based programme to reduce obesity rates and promote healthy lifestyles among disadvantaged children was extended in January 2020 for a further three years. Called Health in Action (HIA), the programme run by INMED South Africa and the Mondelēz International Foundation, has just released it halfway results and the results are so encouraging.
According to Programme Manager for Health in Action, Dr Sandra Pretorius, over the last five years the programme has reached nearly 260,000 learners, 6,900 teachers and 1,477 food preparers in 342 schools in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
“For HIA Phase II, we are focusing on education and training, including workshops with educators on nutrition, food gardens and aquaponics, and nutrition linked to the curriculum subjects. We are also training community members to grow their own food gardens, and teaching the benefits of exercise and eating a healthy diet,” says Dr Pretorius.
Schools in Phase II have been divided into the “Model Schools Track”—those schools participating in the complete Health in Action program model—and the newly introduced “Community Track’ schools model, which includes community-based education, training and engagement for greater sustainability and potential to scale, as well as expanded training to reach life orientation teachers and school food preparers.
“Our midline survey results of the nutritional status among children and teachers in the program halfway through phase 2 indicate an 85% increase among learners in knowledge of good nutrition and healthy lifestyles, which is testament to the efficacy of our participatory nutrition education programme, particularly during a pandemic,” she says.
Also notable in our survey was the remarkable increase in the percentage of learners who reported increased consumption of vegetables, fruit and fresh foods which was 79% at midline compared to only 16% at the start of the second phase.
She says most concerning however was the drop in physical activity among children. About 44% of children reported engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day compared to 61% at baseline. “This is mainly a result of restrictions brought by COVID-19 and authorities need to ensure that time is allowed for physical activities in schools,” she concludes.