Unhealthy offerings at SA’s school tuck shops
Mostly unhealthy food options are sold to South African school children with low nutrient energy dense foods (chips, sweets) and sugar sweetened beverages, this is according to the Scoping study on School tuck shops in South Africa.
This scoping study was done by Nico Nortje from the University of the Western Cape and Dr Anniza De Villiers from the Non Communicable Diseases Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council in 2016. It was done with the purpose to assess what proportion of children buy food at school and which food items are mostly available through tuck shops or food vendors in South Africa.
Ten studies of which two were national surveys were selected for this study.The study reports that that foods sold to learners are most unhealthy food options, with chips, sweets and chocolates generally being the most popular food in township schools.
It further mentions that children’s preference for unhealthy foods, the cost of healthier food options and a lack of proper facilities may however be barriers for implementing healthy tuck shops.
Speaking to Health-e News De Villiers said that the school food environment is a complicated issue “With many children only able to afford cheaper highly processed food, even defining what the term (school food environment) encompasses is not simple as vendors and spaza shops selling food to learners during school hours also should be acknowledged as role players in the school food environment,” said De Villiers.
Commenting on whether the schools are doing enough to change the School food environment De Villiers said that “To my knowledge very little has been done to guide and control school food environments.”
The Department Of Education policy does make mention of the need for nutrition education in the curriculum and health promoting school environments. To this effect the Department of Basic Education is also providing a support pack for task teams at national and provincial level that want to implement the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) Programme.
“Guidelines for improving the school food and nutrition environment is included in the support pack but it is not clear to what extent the CSTL Programme has been implemented in South Africa,” she added that “What is however positive is that there is a policy framework available that can be utilised to at least start the process of providing healthier school environments within the socio-economic realities of schools.”
According to Steve Mabona the Gauteng Department of Education spokes person, so far in order for learners to be exposed to healthy school environment “The Department has published tuck shop guidelines to assist schools in ensuring that healthy foods are sold within the school premises,” he added that “The country is faced with a rise in obesity and Nutrition Education is therefore an important component which seeks to promote healthy lifestyles amongst learners through nutrition education,” said Mabona.
It is argued that school policies should be in place to enable a healthy preference-learning food environment through for example repeated and sustained exposure to healthy foods, and comprehensive and consistent food standards.
Therefore the school tuck shop study concludes that an existing policy framework for achieving healthy school food environments exists in South Africa in the form of the Integrated School Health Policy (ISHP). This policy is located within a legislative framework and deals with all aspects of school health. The ISHP is a joint initiative between the National Departments of Health and Basic Education.
Theoretically, the ISHP could provide the platform for regulating nutritional standards of foods sold at school. However, in order for the ISHP to succeed professionals from both Public Health and education will need to collaborate, which may be challenging as the priorities of these two disciplines differ.