Dieticians want in on monitoring national school nutrition policy

DWYER… maybe we need to do a little more to make the policy a little more realistic based on the feedback from our students

AS Consultation Sessions on the National School Nutrition Policy Green Paper continue across the island. There have been calls for dieticians and nutritionists trained at two of the island’s universities to become part of the monitoring framework once it is rolled out in schools.

A representative who made the proposal during a Department of Education and Youth consultation session on the National School Nutrition Policy at the Caenwood Center in the Corporate Area recently said the vision for the policy would not be realized if monitoring was left to teachers and professionals would have been excluded.

“I don’t think any of this can happen without the monitoring and evaluation of the Nutrition and Dietetics Fraternity,” the person said, asking if there would be zonal school nutritionists to oversee the policy.

“Why are teachers responsible for monitoring? We have two institutions that graduate dieticians and nutritionists annually – Northern Caribbean University and the University of Technology [Jamaica]. We are healthcare professionals trained to supervise and guide people. A lot of people think dieticians are only in hospitals. We should be in schools, nursing homes, children’s homes – all these facilities,” the representative explained.

Participants in the consultation sessions on the National School Nutrition Policy Green Paper say its implementation cannot take place without the monitoring and evaluation aspect of the Nutrition and Dietetics Fraternity.

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“There is a cadre of graduates who are willing and ready to be school nutrition practitioners,” he concluded.

Acting Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, Maureen Dwyer, responded to the proposal, saying it would be referred to the Minister for consideration, along with others approached by students in attendance.

Dwyer, speaking earlier in the session, had noted feedback from students to the National Education Inspectorate on nutrition in their schools. She pointed to a 2016-2017 survey that asked around 12,000 primary and secondary school students about nutrition in their schools.

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Of the closed responses at primary school, 64 percent thought the canteen provided nutritious meals, while at secondary school only 48 percent of students thought the meals were good.

An Education Ministry official who looked into responses during the session said some students actually reported receiving “raw meat” and “the oil used”. [to prepare meals] was stale”, while some said “the food they got was just pushed at them”.

“So you can well imagine that we thought of those comments. So the directive is now a green paper, which means it has been tabled in Parliament and comments are now being sought on it,” Dwyer told the students.

Concerns from students, who came from elementary schools, high schools and universities, included the cost of healthy meals, which they felt was more expensive than unhealthy foods. Concerns have also been raised about the affordability of balanced meals for students in the Promotion Through Health and Education (PATH) program. Students also expressed the need for a feedback mechanism so they can report schools that are lagging behind in providing healthy meals.

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Dwyer, who commented further at the end of the session, said, “Maybe we need to do a little bit more to make the guideline a little bit more realistic based on the feedback from our students.”

The National School Nutrition Policy was developed by the government to ensure children are exposed to good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Under the provision, the government will work to direct, and in some cases mandate, school cafeterias to prepare healthier options for students.

Since January 1, 2020, sweetened drinks with a maximum total sugar content of five grams/100 ml may no longer be introduced into schools.

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