CAN­TEENS: PRO­MOT­ING HEALTHY NUTRI­TION

While guide­lines for food pro­vi­sion in school can­teens have been es­tab­lished across the na­tion, more needs to be done to en­force its im­ple­men­ta­tion for the health and well­be­ing of Aus­tralian chil­dren.

The Australian Education Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - CAMERON DRUM­MOND

PRO­MOT­ING healthy nutri­tion through schools is an im­por­tant fac­tor in the fight against obe­sity in Aus­tralian chil­dren. While some ju­ris­dic­tions have checks and bal­ances in place, more needs to be done to en­sure school can­teens are pro­vid­ing health­ier op­tions.

A poor-qual­ity diet is seen as one of the big­gest detri­ments to a per­son’s health, and school can­teens are at the front line of chil­dren’s’ day-to-day food con­sump­tion.

Over the past few decades, the con­sump­tion of en­ergy-dense, nu­tri­ent poor foods and bev­er­ages has in­creased, while the in­take of healthy foods such as fruits and veg­eta­bles has de­clined.

Ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics (ABS) 2011-2012 Na­tional Nutri­tion and Phys­i­cal Ac­tiv­ity Sur­vey, only 6.8 per cent and 54 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion met the rec­om­men­da­tions for its in­take of veg­eta­bles and fruits re­spec­tively.

As a re­sult of th­ese poor di­etary habits, obe­sity in Aus­tralia grew be­tween 2 and 3 per cent ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD); higher than that of com­pa­ra­ble OECD coun­tries such as Canada, Eng­land and the US.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare (AIHW), one in four Aus­tralian chil­dren and 63 per cent of adults are over­weight or obese.

Teach­ers can play a vi­tal role in in­flu­enc­ing chil­dren’s eat­ing habits, as they are im­por­tant role mod­els in a child’s devel­op­ment.

WA School Canteen As­so­ci­a­tion (WASCA) ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Me­gan Nee­son said there were a num­ber of ways teach­ers can em­brace the HDF pol­icy and ed­u­cate chil­dren about healthy eat­ing.

“Class par­ties where chil­dren bring a broad range of fruit to share and are chal­lenged to bring un­usual op­tions; cook­ing ac­tiv­i­ties us­ing recipes with ‘green’ prod­ucts; or link with the canteen for spe­cific events such as ‘walk/ ride to school day’, mul­ti­cul­tural days and waste-wise ini­tia­tives,” she said.

Since chil­dren spend a large part of their ac­tive hours in school, school can­teens are positioned as a front line food source and play a piv­otal role in a child’s nu­tri­tional in­take.

A healthy school en­vi­ron­ment can en­cour­age early devel­op­ment of healthy eat­ing be­hav­iours, and an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive that has re­ceived at­ten­tion over the past decade is the pro­vi­sion of nu­tri­tional guide­lines for school can­teens.

The Fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Healthy School Canteen Guide­lines (NHSCG) have been avail­able since 2010; how­ever they are not manda­tory and not all States and Ter­ri­to­ries have adopted th­ese guide­lines.

A com­pre­hen­sive re­view by the Ge­orge In­sti­tute for Global Health at the Uni­ver­sity of Sydney iden­ti­fied the dis­crep­an­cies be­tween guide­lines for can­teens in dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions across Aus­tralia.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­view, while canteen nutri­tion guide­lines across dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions have com­mon­al­i­ties as set out in the prior sec­tions, across Aus­tralia there are dif­fer­ences in their de­sign, sup­port pro­grams, some colour cod­ing of food and drinks, and eval­u­a­tions.

“AC­CORD­ING TO THE AUS­TRALIAN IN­STI­TUTE OF HEALTH AND WEL­FARE, ONE IN FOUR AUS­TRALIAN CHIL­DREN AND 63 PER CENT OF ADULTS ARE OVER­WEIGHT OR OBESE.” TRAF­FIC LIGHT SYS­TEM

The colour cod­ing of foods and drinks refers to the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Healthy Food and Drink (HFD) pol­icy’s ‘traf­fic light sys­tem’, and is based on the Gov­ern­ment’s Aus­tralian Di­etary Guide­lines and Guide to Healthy Eat­ing.

This means that core foods from the five food groups (breads and ce­re­als, fruit, veg­eta­bles, lean meat and milk and al­ter­na­tives) must be avail­able in can­teens, while other food and drinks are ei­ther re­stricted or un­avail­able.

“In most States and Ter­ri­to­ries, canteen guide­lines do not specif­i­cally de­fine the pro­por­tion of green and am­ber prod­ucts that should be of­fered – in­stead, they use de­scrip­tions such as green prod­ucts should ‘fill’ or ‘dom­i­nate’ school menus, while am­ber prod­ucts should ‘not dom­i­nate’ or ‘be se­lected care­fully’,” the re­view stated.

‘Green’ prod­ucts in­clude fruit, veg­eta­bles and ce­re­als, and meals such as lean meat ham­burg­ers with sal­ads, veg­etable pas­tas and a va­ri­ety of healthy sand­wiches and rolls.

‘Am­ber’ prod­ucts are to be se­lected care­fully and are those that pro­vide some nu­tri­tional value; how­ever over-con­sump­tion could con­trib­ute to ex­cess en­ergy. Th­ese in­clude re­duced fat pas­tries, fruit muffins,

“SINCE CHIL­DREN SPEND A LARGE PART OF THEIR AC­TIVE HOURS IN SCHOOL, SCHOOL CAN­TEENS ARE POSITIONED AS A FRONT LINE FOOD SOURCE AND PLAY A PIV­OTAL ROLE IN A CHILD’S NU­TRI­TIONAL IN­TAKE.”

potato por­tions, pizza and chicken.

‘Red’ prod­ucts are those with lit­tle nu­tri­tional value that are of­ten high in en­ergy, sugar, sat­u­rated fat and salt, and in­clude deep fried foods, sweet sand­wich fill­ings, con­fec­tionary, soft drinks and sweet­ened fruit juices.

The re­view found that only West­ern Aus­tralia had de­fined the pro­por­tion of green

(60 per cent) and am­ber (40 per cent) prod­ucts that should be of­fered in school can­teens.

The ACT, NSW, QLD, Vic­to­ria and South Aus­tralia guide­lines all al­lowed red items to be pro­vided twice per term.

Ms Nee­son said the traf­fic light sys­tem was well re­garded in WA schools.

“It pro­motes the con­sump­tion of food and drinks which are good sources of nu­tri­ents. ‘Green’ foods mean so much more that spinach, ap­ples, broc­coli and brus­sel sprouts,” Ms Nee­son said.

“Based on the menu as­sess­ments con­ducted by WASCA we know that on av­er­age canteen menus con­tain 72 per cent green choices – this ex­ceeds the min­i­mum re­quire­ment of 60 per cent.

“Some schools are even in the 90’s and a cou­ple of­fer 100 per cent green choices.”

In WA, a se­ries of sur­veys and fo­cus groups were held with par­ents, teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and canteen man­agers were con­ducted fol­low­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the fed­eral HFD pol­icy.

“It was found that par­ents, teach­ers and prin­ci­pals all had pos­i­tive views to­wards the pol­icy; felt the pol­icy pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties to link nutri­tion ed­u­ca­tion by im­prov­ing the health­i­ness of the foods and drinks avail­able at the school canteen; and WA canteen man­agers found im­ple­ment­ing the HFD pol­icy a rel­a­tively smooth process.”

25 per cent also sold banned drinks, and only 11 per cent had menus with no banned items.

The Ge­orge In­sti­tute re­view stated that while the NSW Gov­ern­ment’s ‘Fresh Tastes @ School’ man­dates canteen nutri­tion guide­lines, ad­her­ence was gen­er­ally poor.

A study of pri­mary school can­teens in the Hunter-new Eng­land re­gion of NSW found that from 170 menus ac­cessed on­line or pro­vided by canteen man­agers be­tween 2012 and 2013, green prod­ucts made up about 40 per cent of school menus, while red prod­ucts av­er­aged 8 per cent.

It also found that larger schools and those in higher so­cio-eco­nomic ar­eas were more likely to have health­ier menus.

Other sur­veys found that States and Ter­ri­to­ries with­out mon­i­tor­ing or ac­cred­i­ta­tion pro­grams gen­er­ally had less than 50 per cent ‘green prod­ucts’ avail­able, even though all their guide­lines sug­gested that green prod­ucts be the ma­jor op­tion avail­able.

AC­CRED­I­TA­TION

All ju­ris­dic­tions pro­vide ma­te­rial and train­ing sup­port to schools, par­ents and canteen staff to im­ple­ment nutri­tion guide­lines, how­ever cur­rently only WA and Tas­ma­nia have ac­cred­i­ta­tion pro­grams for school can­teens.

Schools that par­tic­i­pate in th­ese pro­grams must meet for­mal bench­marks to achieve dif­fer­ent grades of ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

In WA, the STARCAP2 pro­gram awards can­teens ‘star rat­ings’ based on cer­tain sales tar­gets of green prod­ucts.

In 2016, re­ported sales of green foods from schools in­volved in the pro­gram were be­tween 83 and 99 per cent.

Al­though par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram re­mained low (less than 2 per cent of el­i­gi­ble schools), a re­cent re­view of the pro­gram re­vealed canteen su­per­vi­sors found sat­is­fac­tion in ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents, par­ents and staff about healthy eat­ing and know­ing that the canteen is pro­duc­ing a healthy menu for stu­dents.

Tas­ma­nia’s Canteen Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Pro­gram

en­com­passes four ar­eas of canteen man­age­ment: food ser­vice pol­icy, food safety, foods avail­able at school, and the ‘whole school’ ap­proach – mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties which spread the healthy food mes­sage to the broader school com­mu­nity. Tas­ma­nian School Canteen As­so­ci­a­tion (TSCA) ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Julie Dun­babin said ac­cred­i­ta­tion comes at gold, sil­ver and bronze level stan­dards ac­cord­ing to how schools meet spe­cific cri­te­ria.

“In to­tal, we 115 schools that are in­volved with the TSCA,” Ms Dun­babin said.

“50 are ac­cred­ited, and have there­fore com­pleted the four ar­eas of canteen man­age­ment, and of this 50, 31 are at Gold level; 17 at Sil­ver level; and two at Bronze level.”

“There are 65 other schools that are positioned within the four ar­eas but haven’t quite com­pleted the pro­gram.”

The Ge­orge In­sti­tute re­view con­cluded that other States and Ter­ri­to­ries should con­sider im­prov­ing their eval­u­a­tion and mon­i­tor­ing frame­works to en­sure on­go­ing com­pli­ance and put em­pha­sis on util­is­ing ob­jec­tive au­dits of canteen menus.

All im­ages: WASCA.

The traf­fic light sys­tem is used in ev­ery State and Ter­ri­tory.

More must be done to ef­fec­tively en­force health­ier op­tions in Aus­tralian school can­teens.

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