The School Health Department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) and Helen Keller International-HKI (Cambodia) have launched a pilot project called “Good School, Good Food, Prosperous Future” after learning that many Cambodian children consumed snacks with high salt, sugar and fat and low nutrients in schools.
These unhealthy snacks, sold in schools can lead to malnutrition, especially micronutrient deficiencies, and cause obesity among students while cultivating bad eating habits as they grow up.
The pilot project was implemented with stakeholders, using an approach called “in-depth discussion of knowledge, experience and change in human behaviour.”
This project also pays heed to the ministry’s circular number 18, which is to improve school health and food safety.
On the morning of August 2, a team from the project visited Chong Rok Primary School in Kong Pisei district’s Chong Rok Commune in Kampong Speu province.
They found that the school sold healthy food to students and possessed a good understanding of the value of a healthy diet.
Tim Kimly, principal of Chong Rok Primary School, said the knowledge of teachers, students as well as sellers were limited.
“Everyone wants to be healthy and think that the food sold in schools is good for health without realising that this food can still be harmful.
“I understand that this new project will be able to provide knowledge and appropriate solutions to improve students’ wellbeing as we outline the problems and solutions,” he said.
Fifteen-year-old Chhay Molika, a grade five student at Chong Rok Primary School, said teachers often told her to eat healthy foods such as bread, steam-pork cake (Angsom Chrouk), and steamed banana sticky rice cake.
At the same time, she was advised to avoid fast food as it can be harmful to health.
“Teachers told us not to consume dry-salted freshwater clams, half-cooked food and sweet drinks. I only drink pure water, cane juice and sometimes lemon tea. I used to get stomach aches when I ate packed cakes. So, I stopped eating them,” she said.
Shoeng Siwang, a food vendor at this primary school who received guidance and advice on food safety from the school and HKI, said she had been selling desserts and fruits at the school since 2014.
“The school and HKI advised us to sell food that is safe for children and their health. I followed their instructions by not selling banned food and drinks such as those containing chemicals or that are too sweet,” she said.
Back in 2020, the Global Nutrition Report said one in eight children aged between five and 19 are overweight or obese in Cambodia.
It also wrote that two-thirds of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, most of them related to food poisoning.
A 2021 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that the overweight level and obesity in children has been rising rapidly in Southeast Asia as a result of high content of salt, sugar and fat in school snacks.
The information quoted in the statement by the pilot project “Good school, good food, prosperous future”, further revealed that such food can cause health problems and malnutrition in primary school students, impairing their memory and learning.
A study by the World Food Program and HKI shared that most children were given money by their parents to buy snacks in schools.
Hou Kroeun, deputy director of HKI, said the findings in the project are being made during a 12-month study in three schools in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district. It started in January.
“After the project ends, we will evaluate the accomplishments. We are pushing on this work because we care about the children’s health, nutrition, as well as their future. They are our bamboo shoots,” he said.