Promoting sustainable healthy diets through school feeding programmes

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Students buying Puff Puff (in the plastic bowl) from snack seller during break time.

Kafayat Adebayo is a food scientist with expertise on food safety and public health. She works as Scientific Officer in the Federal Ministry of Health, Ibadan, Nigeria. She recently completed her PhD study which assessed food hygiene and safety practices of school foodservice establishments. She is enthusiastic about helping adolescents make healthy food choices.

"You are what you eat." This timeless saying underscores the close relationship between our health and the food we consume. To maintain good health, we must be mindful of our dietary choices. Despite this awareness, research indicates a troubling trend: individuals of all ages, from children to the elderly, are experiencing declining health due to poor lifestyles and dietary choices. This is especially concerning for adolescents; whose ongoing physiological development makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of suboptimal dietary habits.

I vividly recall a visit to my son's school, where I observed a delivery truck unloading crates of sugary drinks and processed snacks. This sight raised questions about the nutritional quality of the foods available to the students. I discovered that unhealthy, processed snacks were readily accessible, while healthy options such as fruits and vegetables were conspicuously absent. This revelation deeply concerned me about the students' health and the quality of their school meals.

Adolescents struggle to make healthy food choices without adequate guidance, and it is crucial that we prioritise their well-being. They make up about 16% of the world's population, with over 40 million (23%) in Nigeria alone. Understanding the dynamics of school meals can provide insights into the dietary needs of children and the importance of providing safe and nourishing diets.

My research revealed that school meals are often high in fats and salts, and school health programmes are poorly implemented. Many food vendors lack knowledge about students' nutritional needs and food safety, while school management faces challenges related to infrastructure, funding, and effective monitoring of school feeding programmes. In response, my team developed balanced menus and trained food handlers on food safety and personal hygiene.

Motivated by these findings, I sought to understand how I could contribute to improving adolescent health through school feeding programmes. The recently concluded food systems e-course provided valuable insights into the interconnectedness of the farm-to-fork continuum and the roles of various stakeholders in the food supply chain.

I believe we need to rethink our existing school feeding programmes and adopt a strategic, holistic approach. This involves engaging school management, parents, local farmers and community leaders to provide healthier, locally grown, and environmentally friendly meals in schools. A designated committee should monitor what students eat, and the curriculum should include nutrition and health classes with practical sessions. School management can establish a community-led team to regulate school meals and partner with local farmers to procure safe and nourishing foods.

After completing the e-course, I am motivated to start a fruit and vegetable stall at my children's school and collaborate with the school management to raise awareness about healthy diets. A consumer health corner and digital platform via mobile phones will be available with relevant information on healthy lifestyles. Initiatives such as school food clubs and hygiene programmes can help instil healthy habits early on and empower adolescents to make informed choices. Through these efforts, school feeding programmes can contribute to transforming our food systems into healthier and more sustainable models.

By expanding these initiatives to other schools and uniting stakeholders to push for policy reforms, we can create a healthier food environment and promote better consumer behaviours among adolescents. Addressing the burden of malnutrition requires investing in youth health today, paving the way for a healthier and more resilient future for generations to come.


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Kafayat Adebayo

e-course participant

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