The Greater Accra Regional Health Directorate has called for strengthened stakeholder involvement in promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyles among school children and adolescents.
Mrs Faustina Vimariba Tour, the Greater Accra Regional (GAR) Nutrition Officer, who made the call in Accra, said this would help build a healthier generation of citizens by eliminating preventable and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and malnutrition, particularly, among children and adolescents of school-going age.
“Sadly most of our children are coming down with these preventable diseases, with children as young as eight years old being diagnosed with type two diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity,” she said.
In Ghana 90 per cent of diabetics had type two with only five per cent being type one or insulin-dependent.
She urged stakeholders including parents and teachers to support the ongoing advocacy for healthy eating and lifestyle choices, to ensure proper growth and prevent Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) among that population.
The meeting was jointly organised by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and Ghana Education Service (GES) to, among other things, increase understanding among service providers and stakeholders on the nutrition initiative.
It is expected to help build regional plans with a framework for monitoring and assessment of gaps and progress on nutrition, and establish an agreement on steps for operationalisation at all levels with timelines and clear roles and responsibilities.
Mrs Tour said although data on the health and nutritional status of school-age children and adolescents were worryingly scarce, the limited information available showed that diets of those groups were limited in diversity, with low consumption of animal source foods, and exposure to diets high in ultra-processed foods.
Additional data showed that about 50 per cent of adolescent girls ate less than three meals per day, but often snacked at school, while sedentary lifestyles, frequent consumption of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation practices, was becoming the norm, she said.
“Evidence shows that the consumption of fruits and vegetables is just about seven per cent, even though the WHO standards requires that these must form half of the serving plate of a complete meal,” she said.
Mrs Tour said the rationale behind investing in school-aged child and adolescent nutrition was because they had unique nutrition needs at every stage of their development, which influenced risks and eating behaviours.
She said the Directorate was looking at instilling in the children healthy lifestyles by intensifying education on physical activity including gardening in schools, counselling on the dangers of alcohol intake and cigarettes (tobacco) smoking, and the abuse of other harmful drugs.
She mentioned the ongoing Girls Iron and Folate Tablets Supplementation, which provided free weekly supplements for adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 years, an example of the minimum package under the initiative.
Reverend Patrick Banafo, the Greater Accra Regional Coordinator for the School Health Education Programme (SHEP), said the Nutrition Friendly Initiative, which involved education on healthy eating and enhancing physical activities, would be piloted in 100 schools.
It would ensure regular nutrition assessment of school children by the GHS to monitor their proper growth.
Rev Banafo urged stakeholders including food vendors in and around educational establishments to respect various policies regarding the types and quality of food sold to children.
He advised parents and teachers to educate girls on the uptake of the Iron and Folate Tablets Supplementation to improve their health and general wellbeing.