An innovative school-based programme to reduce obesity rates and promote healthy lifestyles among disadvantaged children has been extended for three more years. Called Health in Action (HIA), the programme has reached than 140 000 primary school children at 116 schools in 13 at-risk communities in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
In the last four years, the HIA program in South Africa has demonstrated its enormous potential to positively influence the nation’s public health. An assessment of nutritional status among children and teachers in the program, as measured by Body Mass Index, showed that the obesity rates in children decreased by 42%, and by 33% among the teachers.
An initiative of INMED Partnerships for Children and the Mondelēz International Foundation, Health in Action combines participatory education in nutrition and healthy choices, access to fresh food via school gardens and regular break-time fitness activities led by INMED-trained unemployed youth. The programme is facilitated by INMED South Africa, a registered local NGO.
Based on the success of HiA phase I, which spanned from 2015 to 2019, INMED launched its second phase in January 2020, with the objective of spreading its reach and impact to develop a sustainable healthy lifestyle culture in schools and communities. According to Navisha Bechan -Sewkuran, Corporate & Government Affairs Lead at Mondelēz South Africa, “Building a positive impact for people and the planet is at the core of who we are. We are committed to the wellbeing of individuals and communities by focusing our efforts where we can make the biggest difference. Through programs, such as Health in Action, we can get children playing, making informed food choices and accessing nutritious foods.”
“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 Sandra Pretorius, HIA program manager.
Schools in Phase II will be 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.
This new track also provides a platform for testing strategies for future impact investing and entrepreneurship opportunities related to the core program topics, including aquaponics, home food production and physical education instruction. In addition, this track will also provide new opportunities for Mondelēz International to contribute professional expertise in marketing, branding, finance etc. to support emerging entrepreneurs, a step that has the potential to break poverty cycles and build stronger communities in the future.
Phase II goes further to include the establishment of student clubs in the Model Schools to address nutrition and healthy lifestyle issues through a peer-to-peer approach; the provision of water harvesting systems, garden equipment and sports equipment to Model Schools; and a new commercial-scale aquaponics system in the Johannesburg area.
“The Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Obesity in South Africa 2015-2020 set a goal of a 10% decrease in obesity among all age groups by 2020. Children and teachers in the Health in Action program have already far exceeded that national target,” concludes Dr Pretorius.