The School Health Department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and Helen Keller International-HKI (Cambodia) have launched a pilot project entitled Good School, Good Food, Prosperous Future after learning that many Cambodian children are eating snacks thus consuming high salt, sugar and fat and low nutrients in schools.
These unhealthy snacks sold in schools can lead to malnutrition, particularly micronutrient deficiencies, and lead to obesity in students while cultivating poor eating habits as they age.
The pilot project was conducted with stakeholders using an approach called ‘in-depth discussion of knowledge, experience and human behavior change’.
This project also responds to the Ministry’s Circular No. 18, which aims to improve school health and food safety.
On the morning of August 2, a team from the project visited Chong Rok Elementary School in Chong Rok Township, Kong Pisei District, Kampong Speu Province.
They found that the school sold healthy food to students and had a good understanding of the value of healthy eating.
Tim Kimly, principal of Chong Rok Elementary School, said the knowledge of teachers, students and vendors is limited.
“Everyone wants to be healthy and thinks that the food sold in schools is good for health without realizing that that food can still be harmful.
“I understand that this new project will be able to provide knowledge and appropriate solutions to improve students’ well-being as we outline the problems and solutions,” he said.
Chhay Molika, 15, a fifth-grade student at Chong Rok Primary School, said teachers often told her to eat healthy foods like bread, steamed pork cake (angsom crouk) and steamed banana sticky rice cake.
At the same time, she was advised not to eat fast food, as it could be harmful to her health.
“Teachers told us not to eat salted freshwater clams, half-cooked food, and sweet drinks. I only drink plain water, cane juice and sometimes lemon tea. I used to get stomach ache when I ate packaged cakes. So I stopped eating them,” she said.
Shoeng Siwang, a food vendor at this elementary school who has received guidance and advice on food safety from the school and the HKI, said she has been selling desserts and fruit at the school since 2014.
“The school and HKI have advised us to sell food that is safe for children and their health. I have followed their instructions by not selling banned foods and drinks that contain chemicals or are too sweet,” she said.
Back in 2020, the Global Nutrition Report said that one in eight children between the ages of five and 19 in Cambodia is overweight or obese.
It also wrote that two-thirds of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, most of them related to food poisoning.
A 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) report showed that overweight and obesity rates among children in Southeast Asia have been rising rapidly due to the high levels of salt, sugar and fat in school snacks.
The information cited in the statement of the Good School, Good Food, Good Future pilot project further revealed that such foods can lead to health problems and malnutrition in primary school students, which affect memory and learning ability.
A study by the World Food Program and HKI said most children received money from their parents to buy snacks in schools.
Hou Kroeun, deputy director of HKI, said the project’s findings were obtained during a 12-month study in three schools in Kong Pisei district of Kampong Speu province. It started in January.
“After the project is completed, we will evaluate the achievements. We drive this work forward because we care about the health, nutrition and future of the children. They are our bamboo shoots,” he said.