At present, Jamaican students do not have adequate and equal access to healthy food at school. There are varying standards for school food, as there is currently no policy or legislation to offer guidance.
The WHO recommends healthy school food policies as an effective way to promote dietary patterns that reduce the risk of NCDs.
Overconsumption of unhealthy foods (high in sugar, salt, fats) is a primary risk factor that contributes to the prevalence of NCDs.
These policies ensure that the right of Jamaican students to a healthy school food environment does not rely on informal systems and the sole willpower of school administration, but that it is backed by ministerial direction that clearly promotes the nutritional wellbeing of students.
NCDs are a major public health issue in Jamaica.
1 in 3 Jamaicans has hypertension, and 1 in 8 has diabetes.
As it relates to young people, in 2017, more than 30,000 children between 10 and 19 were found to be hypertensive.
WHO Global School-based Student Health Survey reported that in Jamaica 20% of boys and 26.4% of girls between the ages of 13-17 were overweight, and 9% of boys and 9.5% of girls in that same age group were obese.
Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2016-2017 (JHLS) reported that more than 70% of the population had insufficient resources or access to safe, healthy, and nutritious foods.
More than three-quarters of students get their lunch from the school canteen, tuckshop, or vendors in the school food environment.
It is estimated that the Jamaican economy stands to lose about 77 billion dollars between 2017-2032 if there is continued failure to implement a package of interventions for NCDs.
WHAT DO WE HAVE IN JAMAICA NOW?
In 2019, then Minister of Education, Ruel Reid
stated that the Interim Guidelines on Sugary Beverages,
which placed a restriction on the sale of drinks that have a high sugar
content in schools, was being released pending the completion of the School
Nutrition and Wellness Policy and accompanying Standards, which were being finalized. No word since then, especially since FTF was suspended.
As the initial policy only applies to sugary drinks, a further policy is needed to regulate the prevalence of, and preference for, ultra processed and unhealthy foods in schools, and the advertising and marketing of these products in that environment.
SCHOOL FOOD ENVIRONMENT:
Many schools are under-resourced, in terms of human and financial resources forcing them to seek alternative ways to meet their obligations to the students in their care.
There are existing contracts between schools and fast food companies to provide food, where often incentives are provided when sales quotas met. This encourages emphasis on food uptake rather than nutritional content.
Food and beverage companies use the school environment to market their products to students, who are often impressionable and not equipped with the necessary information to make healthy food choices.
A definition of the school food environment that includes, but is not limited to, the school grounds, canteen as well as vendors in the surrounding retail environment at least up to 200m from the school property, and anywhere schools are providing students with food. This should also extend to food supplied under the national school feeding programme and PATH.
A ban on foods containing excess nutrients of concern being sold or otherwise provided, within the school food environment. Excess nutrients can be defined in accordance with the PAHO Nutrient Profile Model.
A ban on foods containing excess nutrients of concern being advertised or marketed within the school food environment.
The introduction of a zero rated basket of essential healthy foods for proper childhood nutrition, and pricing guidelines for these foods within the school food environment to ensure that these foods are affordable and accessible to all students regardless of their resources
A requirement that healthy foods and beverages are always available in the school food environment
A ban on fast food franchises existing physically within the school environment, and improved regulations on donations from corporate entities to schools
Increased efforts in schools to combat the stigmatization of childhood obesity and other NCDs through nutrition education
Prioritization of clubs such as Jamaica MOVES in Schools, and gardening clubs. These should be retrofitted with COVID19 guidelines
Encouragement of school food gardens so students can plant their own fruits and vegetables, and possibly contribute to availability of these foods at schools
A requirement that an adequate amount of water coolers are at schools so students can refill water bottles without having to purchase water
Guidelines for the monitoring and evaluation aspect of the programme by nutritionists, trained school administrators, and students