On children’s nutrition, it really takes a village

At the end of the day, the responsibility for a child or young person first rests with the parents

Over the past twenty years a lot of work has gone into making sure we live a healthier lifestyle, eat better, exercise more and live in a thoughtful way. Maltese society has moved forward with other countries in developing greater awareness of the foods we eat and the processes behind them.

In the past people used to eat and drink whatever, with little thought going into whether or not these products served them well from a health point of view.

We have come a long way. Today we are very much in tune with what is healthy and what isn’t and people base their choices on such notions. This awareness and renewed commitment to live healthier is widespread across age groups and society.

Certainly, schools are an important element in this equation.

In recent years, schools have become important players in cultivating a more healthy proposition to children, especially when it comes to food and drink.

While it may not have been a popular step across the board, it was important to ban sugary drinks from school canteens and cafeterias.

Junk food has also been removed from the menus of such places and while this is only a small step, as children can still avail themselves of such choices outside of school, I think it’s important to send the right message.

Despite this effort and the increased awareness, the numbers are not good. A high percentage of our children are still overweight, and suffer from serious dental issues.

This issue is a perfect example of how schools can help and support, but a wider approach is crucial if progress is to be achieved.

At the end of the day, the responsibility for a child or young person first rests with the parents.

We must work harder on this.

I am not advocating extremes, just simply to help children from a young age understand the need to live in a healthy manner, the importance of a balanced diet and the need to be responsible for themselves.

Such life skills are important to nurture at a young age, because if such lessons are learnt early chances are that children will grow up with such lifestyles.

The Whole School Approach policy of 2015, established a number of policies to give incentives for more physical activity. Many Maltese schools are integrating physical activity and sport in the school day, and are offering a wide variety of opportunities for physical activity and sport to their students.

This week I had the pleasure to attend the Premju SkolAttiva event, which celebrates schools’ commitment to providing students with more active time and to ensure that sport and physical activity are an important part of children’s educational experience.

It also aims to share and spread good practice and to encourage increased activity in other schools. Much work has gone into these initiatives, and the number of physical education educators has increased substantially over the past three years.

A lot of work has also gone into making sure physical education sessions are engaging and interesting, and in some cases with embeded learning as well.

The Daily Mile initiative, which a few weeks ago was showcased on ITV’s breakfast show, has also helped to inject a little bit of exercise, a simple mile walk or jog, into a student’s schedule. Initiatives such as teaching students and parents to cook healthier dishes are also gathering steam in schools, with more schools joining up to offer such important sessions.

These are all great. However, the buck does not stop with the school. It is important that the positive work done in schools continues in the community and in families.

It is very easy to microwave something. It’s harder to cook fresh food, especially on a daily basis. It does involve more work.

But it also means that that child is growing up with a much healthier perspective towards food and a balanced diet which will help them live healthier and happier.

Society at large can do better as well. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.