Make healthy food available and affordable
Youth call for healthy nutrition at the regional symposium in Kazakhstan
About the author
Angelina is 14 years old. She is a grade 8 student at Lyceum 27 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. Angelina writes for the children’s magazine “i-Bala”. She likes studying English language and dreams of making her parents proud of her achievements.
At some point in her life, every girl thinks about dieting. I am no exception. A couple of years ago I decided to cut out sweets and greasy food. My mom noticed that I was eating only salads for dinner and asked me why. She then said that eating everything in moderation is key to healthy eating and I have followed her advice ever since.
That was the extent of my interest in nutrition when I took part in the regional symposium on nutrition organized by UNICEF in Nur-Sultan. For three days, I attended presentations and talks by delegates and experts from over a dozen countries.
It was not my first symposium; as an aspiring journalist and a member of a local journalism club, I get to attend and cover different events for our Instagram channel and a print magazine - “i-Bala” (“bala” means “a child” in Kazakh). Yet, this symposium stood out from other events for several reasons.
First, I really liked the people who attended the symposium: delegates from eight countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and nutrition experts from all over the world. I appreciated how open the participants were; they took time to answer our questions and shared their contacts.
Second, I learned something new about food and nutrition. I learned that our region has rapidly increasing rates of the number of overweight children – by over 80 per cent since 2000. I was shocked to find out that marketing specialists purposefully put sweets and other unhealthy products at the eye level of children. After hearing this, I went to the store to check if that was true. I saw brightly packaged sweet popcorn, chocolates, gum and other sweets right by the cash register and on lower shelves.
I do not understand why producers target children. Do they let their own children eat junk food? I doubt it. All parents love their children and want what is best for them. Producers and marketing professionals must know how their food is made and they understand the effects this food has on children’s health. I think they simply do not care about other people’s children because profit comes first.
Third, I have never experienced adults listening to children the way they did at the nutrition symposium. When we were presenting at the end, every single person in the room shut down their laptops, put away their phones and listened to us.
We shared our concerns about nutrition: that healthy food is expensive, unavailable, while unhealthy food is affordable and easily accessible. The biggest concern is school food – there are no healthy options, everything is fried dough with a stuffing: fried cabbage, mashed potatoes or meat.
We also listed our recommendations. Some children participants suggested banning the sale of junk food to children. This led to some heated discussions within our group.
My favorite recommendation had to do with innovation: I suggested issuing special shopping cards for children that would allow adults to monitor what we are buying.
In the end, I have a message for parents. I would like to remind adults to discuss the importance of nutrition with their children. Even when it seems that we do not listen, we do, and we store away important information for future. My parents always talk to me and I want to encourage others to do the same.
For myself and other young people, the symposium was an insightful experience. I hope that our ideas (listed below) will bring change for the better.
Young people’s recommendations for improving diets of children and youth in Central Asia and Caucasus:
- Make fruits and vegetables cheaper.
- Advertise healthy food everywhere: billboards, influencers, TV.
- Ensure better quality control of food in shops, markets and school cafeterias.
- Teach adults the foundations of healthy living and eating.
- Encourage (or teach) parents to motivate and reward children through means other than food: going to the theatre, the museum, spending quality time together.
- Ban food or control what food is sold in movie theatres.
- Sell healthier snacks at school: whole grain bread, dried fruits, trail mixes, fruits.
- Ensure better sanitation in school cafeterias.
- Diversify school sports activities and make them accessible and affordable for all.