Skopje, 18 October 2019: At an ideation workshop “Helping children to lead healthy and active lives” - school age children, parents and teachers explored innovative solutions to promote healthy diets in schools, at home and in the community. The workshop is part of a UNICEF supported nutrition initiative to respond to the behavioural factors driving childhood obesity in the country.
“Children and young people are best positioned to influence health concepts. Whether through influencing school curricula, helping change individual choices in and around the school, home and community, their creative ideas can shape interventions to promote good nutrition habits,” said Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative.
In addition to the workshop UNICEF has been supporting fact finding mission in cooperation with the UK based Behavioural Insights Team to better understand the behavioural drivers of obesity among school age children (7-14), the individual motivations and the environment in which the existing behaviours are practiced.
The mission has revealed that children's food choices are often an automatic reaction to the physical environments in which they live - unhealthy snacks and drinks are readily and cheaply available from kiosks and vending machines in schools as well as from nearby shops, while appealing healthy alternatives are lacking. Social and cultural factors also contribute to children’s food choices -parents try to help their children maintain a good social status among their peers by giving them enough money to buy snacks during the school breaks which are often unhealthy. Additionally, 'traditional food' is more often perceived as 'healthy food' by some children regardless of the calorie content and nutritional composition of these foods.
Global behavioural research shows providing information about healthy eating alone is unlikely to substantially change what people actually eat and drink. The mission also revealed the need to address other behavioural factors in parallel with more and better information about healthy eating. Among them include regulating the food environment in schools; addressing the low prevalence of user-friendly nutritional labels on foods; and addressing some societal misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy weight.
The workshop coincides with the global launch of the State of the World Children’s report SOWC 2019: Children, food and nutrition this week. The report describes a triple burden of malnutrition: undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, and overweight among children under the age of five. Children are globally affected by malnutrition, both in poor and developed countries. One third of children under age 5 globally are malnourished – stunted, wasted or overweight – while two thirds are at risk of malnutrition and hidden hunger because of the poor quality of their diets.
Notes to editor: In North Macedonia 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese - one of the highest in the WHO European Region. Another concern is that the trend of childhood obesity among second-graders (age 7) is growing. In 2010, 37.9% boys were overweight or obese while in 2016 those figures raised up to 39.4%. Those figures for girls were 31.5% in 2010 and 32.9% in 2016, making the country home to approximately 73.000 overweight or obese school age children.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.