Several state institutions and NGOs met at a February 8 workshop to open discussions on documenting guidelines and tools for improving the food environment in Cambodian primary schools.
A press release from Helen Keller International (Cambodia), the organiser of the event, said the guidelines were compiled after the organisation observed that many Cambodian infants and children consume processed food and beverages. Although packaged snacks are unhealthy, they are sold in primary schools across the Kingdom.
“Helen Keller and the Department of School Health under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport have been working together through a pilot project called ‘Good Food, Good School, Bright Future’ at three schools in the province. The project is carried out with the participation of all stakeholders, using an approach called ‘In-depth discussion on knowledge, experience and change in human behaviour methods’,” it said.
Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of Helen Keller Cambodia, said the experience gained from trials in these three schools was the basis for the draft guidelines discussed at the workshop.
“The workshop sought the consultation of relevant institutions. We wanted to provide advice and input on nutritional shortcomings to develop simple tools that will help stakeholders work together to expand the use of these guidelines in primary schools,” he said.
“These guidelines will be compiled into a policy document called ‘Guidelines and tools for improving the food environment in schools’. Schools that wish to improve the food and snacks sold on the compound should implement the guidelines,” he added.
Tim Kimly, the principal of Chong Ruk Primary School located in Chong Ruk commune of Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisey district, said the nutritional awareness among students and staff as well as snack vendors remained limited.
He believed that many of them were unaware of the negative effects of a poor diet.
According to a study by Helen Keller, most children are given a daily allowance by their parents to buy snacks. The unhealthy snacks sold in schools mean many students develop unhealthy eating habits which will continue into adulthood.
The study showed that the food sold in many primary schools is unhygienic and high in sugar, salt and fat, as well as low in nutrients. This can lead to poor health, malnutrition or anemia, all of which affect the cognitive and mental development of children.
The study also found that in Cambodia, more than a quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 19 are overweight or obese. This trend has shown no sign of slowing.