Eating healthy, feeling fresh

Eating habits in Indonesia

Kate Watson
Radit shoots
14 October 2019

It’s first morning break-time at SMA N Klaten 1 high school and the canteen is filling with students jostling for space. Hands reach in to pick up deep fried snacks; orders are shouted over each other for pre-packaged portions of food, or newly ladled bowls of meatball soup; sticky, sweet packets of sugary powdered juice are poured into little plastic bags of ice and water and a straw secured with an elastic band to the top. Stealing a chance to catch up with each other, the students find a space to sit and gulp, slurp, swallow and chat until it’s time to return to class.

“Sometimes I eat breakfast, but sometimes I wake up too late, then I eat at school,” says Radit, before he heads back to his sports class.  “If I’m at home, I eat rice with vegetables and egg. If I’m at school, fried rice.”

For many adolescents, the sports class is the only physical activity they take part in all week, and even that focuses more on technique than keeping fit. Radit on the other hand is an active 17 year old, who plays football with his friends in his spare time, and goes jogging every weekend. But in his breakfast choices, he is far from alone.

According to a qualitative study conducted by UNICEF in 2017, around half of Indonesian teenagers skip breakfast at home, so like Radit, their first meal of the day is made up of whatever they have access to at school. There’s no regulation about the types of food that can be sold in the school canteen though. So what’s available is largely left to the discretion of the school or vendors themselves, many of whom are related to members of staff.

Some of the deep fried Indonesian snacks known as 'gorengan' on sale at the school canteen.

The added problem here is that the national health survey Riskesdas 2007 and 2010 reports that over half (54%) of adolescents are not consuming adequate energy sources. In other words, they’re either being given, or they’re making, bad nutritional choices. In fact, coupled with the increasingly sedentary lifestyle, this contributes to the increasing prevalence of obesity among all age groups in Indonesia.

In Indonesia, 37 per cent of children under 5 are stunted or short for their age, so the country has traditionally focused on reducing levels of undernutrition. But with numbers almost doubling over recent years, children, adults and adolescents are now just as likely to be overweight as they are to be thin, which constitutes a double burden of malnutrition.

The vast majority of students live within a 5 kilometre radius of the school, so could reasonably come by bicycle says teacher Ratna Ainung, and by doing so, they’d fit in some healthy activity each day. But just one quarter of the students do so. “30 years ago it was the total opposite,” she says, believing that easier access to credit is to blame as many more families can now afford motorbikes. She doesn’t think anyone even considers the health aspects, although there may be another reason too: The school day is long. Students have to report for literacy classes at 6.45am, and classes continue, with a few rest breaks, until late afternoon, which goes some way to explain why missing breakfast is so common.



At this high school, there are several canteens to choose from, including one selling freshly made fruit juice, and one that sells vegetable dishes. Yet the most popular choice at any time of day remains those canteens with fried snacks, fried rice and cheap, sugary drinks, as they are cheaper, quicker and closer.

Radit generally prefers eating vegetables to fried foods after playing sports. “It’s more fresh isn’t it? If you just finish sport, you’re sleepy, when you get to class you feel sleepy, so eating vegetables makes your body feel more fresh.” But the corner vendor is closer, so he often eats his breakfast of fried rice there.

Radit plays volleyball
Radit plays volleyball at school in Klaten, Indonesia