A healthy brain and body start from what goes inside
Raising young nutrition champions for healthier generations
“Today was ‘fruit day’ at school. There weren’t any fruits at home, so I bought one cedi worth of bananas when I got to school. My best friend Derrick did not have any fruits, so I shared it with him."
“Tomorrow will be egg day! I’m always excited for egg day because I have a small poultry farm – 10 chickens. I feel so proud when they lay eggs and I get to take two to school. One for me and the other for Derrick.”
Fourteen-year-old Kingsley Amenyo cannot hide his excitement when he talks about his backyard farm at home. He and his classmates at A.M.E. Zion Basic School, have been learning a lot about good nutrition, the four-star diet and the benefits of eating foods that help the brain and the body develop and function well.
Children and adolescents in Ghana continue to suffer from nutrition-related problems such as anemia, stunting and wasting. Improper nutrition during the first 1000 days of a child’s life places a child at a disadvantage early in life and can lead to irreversible effects such as poor mental and physical development, weakened immune system, acute respiratory infections, and an increased risk of child mortality.
Eighteen percent of children in Ghana are stunted and twenty-two percent of adolescents are anemic, which affects their physical health and academic performance. The nutrition needs of children between the ages of five and 19 are under-monitored.
To help address this gap, UNICEF, the Ghana Health Service, the Ghana Education Service with support from the Government of Norway started the Nutrition Friendly School Initiative to promote healthy nutrition habits, hygiene and sanitation and physical activities in a safe school environment. The Nutrition Friendly School Initiative implements a package of interventions which includes, fruit and vegetable days, health inspection days, general cleaning of school compounds, physical activity day, Girls’ Iron and Folic Acid tablet supplementation, nutrition education and the SMART School.
“Before we started fruit day or egg day, I wasn’t paying much attention eating them. When I come to school, I only wanted to buy food to satisfy my hunger until I returned home. Now, I know how fruits and vegetables help me learn and grow so I take them regularly.” Linda, 14, Kingsley’s classmate at A.M.E Zion School shares her experience with the new interventions.
Through training of focal persons – teachers, heads of schools, nutrition officers – healthy nutrition initiatives, like the one in Kingsley’s school are being implemented, food vendors at schools have been involved and sensitized, sale of unhealthy food options have been banned in schools and most importantly children are learning about the four-star diet – staples, legumes, fruits and vegetables and animal protein sources.
Xoeshe Ashigbi, Nutrition Officer at the Volta Regional Health Directorate stated that, “Children and adolescents in schools are often responsible for deciding how they nourish their bodies during school hours. With the pocket money their parents and guardians give them, they consume diets containing high sugar and fats that are bad for their health. Also, a lot of children make decisions on purchasing food that will reduce hunger over food that is nutritious. So, they go for food options that are heavy in carbohydrates to the neglect of proteins and vegetables.”
Xoeshe expressed that as the teachers and school health focal points educate children in schools on nutrition, the knowledge they receive is shared at home and in the communities as well. He continued, “In addition, as schools continue to discourage and ban the sale of unhealthy foods high in sugar and fat, students are compelled to turn to healthier options.
One of the successes of the programme is that schools are investing in teaching students how to grow their own vegetables at school and at home. Edmund Avorle, Science teacher at the St. Francis Junior High School attested to this. “For me this initiative is exciting, because personally, I’m also learning a lot. We invited the local Agriculture Officer in the town to teach the students and teachers how to grow vegetables at school. Since then, each classroom has cultivated an assigned garden where we grow carrots, pepper, cucumber, and cabbage and share them among the students after harvesting. The initiative is already successful even though we started a few months ago.”
Kingsley said, “With what I’m learning from school, I want to add a small vegetable farm at home. I live with my grandmother. I have told her about the four-star diet but sometimes she cannot afford to buy everything. So, if we add a vegetable garden to the poultry farm, we would be able to eat nutritious food at home too."