Informing parents and educators in the Maldives of the importance of healthy nutrition and exercise remains a “huge challenge” to child development in the country, a local charity has said.
The Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) NGO has told Minivan News that parents in the country are still not well-informed on the best ways to promote and ensure their children are engaging in more active lifestyles and enjoying a balanced diet.
The comments were made on the second and final day of a festival launched to celebrate ARC’s Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyle (HEAL) initiative held at Iskandhar School in Male’.
The event began Friday (March 1) with the launch of the first in a new series of books aimed at children to try and promote the five key health objectives at the heart of the HEAL campaign, ARC has said.
According to the NGO, these focuses include: ensuring a daily intake of fruits and vegetables by emphasising colour, encouraging drinking water as an alternative to carbonated beverages and energy drinks, and cutting down on processed foods.
ARC is also calling for a greater availability of healthy snacks for children’s diets, while encouraging physical activity over watching television and playing video games.
Despite the challenges of promoting nutrition in the country, Juna Latheef, Project Manager for the 2013 HEAL Festival, claimed that schools had shown more awareness about teaching the importance of diet and healthy activity even over last 12 months. However, she added that efforts to introduce healthy eating campaigns and other similar programm through the school curriculum were limited by budgetary restrictions.
As part of its own efforts to focus on nutrition in the country, ARC said it is using its HEAL festival to launch the first in a series of children’s books that could be used by both parents or teachers to encourage healthier lifestyles.
Each book will focuses on a child-friendly character, and will detail the key aims of the HEAL strategy, while also playing up the benefits of specific fruits and vegetables to a child’s diet, according to the NGO. The book was made available at the festival for MVR 30 (US$2).
“Adverse dietary pattern”
In May 2012, Maldives Planning Department statistics detailing household food expenditure in the country charted a shift towards an “adverse dietary pattern”, with increased intakes of high-fat and sugary products.
Health experts in the country at the time blamed the unhealthy diet of Maldivians for the high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders such as diabetes in the country. These health factors were found to account for almost 50 percent of all deaths in the country. The comparative figure for the US was then 25 percent.
According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey, the structure of the Maldivian diet was found to have shifted towards a “higher energy density diet with a greater role for fat and added sugars in foods, greater saturated fat intake, reduced intakes of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, and reduced fruit, vegetable and fish intakes.”
During World Health Day in April 2012, authorities told Minivan News that the level of malnutrition experienced in the Maldives was “quite alarming” considering other national advances in the fields of health and medicine.
Public Health Programme Coordinator for the Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) Dr Fathmath Nazla said she was specifically concerned over the national promotion of healthy diets. She claimed that the issue of vitamin deficiency in expectant mothers and children were among her key concerns.
The consumption of high-calorie junk food and energy drinks by young people was also raised as a serious issue for local health experts to address.