School canteens urged to reduce rice portion

Azlan Othman

There has been an alarming trend in the eating habits of Bruneian schoolchildren, with an annual one per cent increase in obesity rates among them.

One out of five children in Brunei is obese, while three out of 10 are overweight.

These facts were cited by Health Education Officer and the Coordinator of Children’s Health Promotion at the Health Promotion Centre Rusydiah binti Haji Sudin in a sharing session held yesterday at the Ministry of Education (MoE) building with canteen operators based at private schools.

She said, “Based on our findings on the type of food and beverages sold at school canteens, we found out that 65 per cent are of the healthy type such as low-fat yoghurt, mineral water and fruit juice, while 29 per cent are of the unhealthy type such as fried food, processed food and food with preservatives, as well as sugary and carbonated beverages.

“Fifty-one per cent are yellow-coded items, which should be taken only twice a week, including fried rice, fried noodles and pasta.

“Twenty-four per cent are green-coded items such as sandwiches, kebabs, fresh fruits, potato salad and baked beans, while 25 per cent are red-coded.

“Therefore we advise canteen vendors to sell rice and noodles only twice a week or – if they are still selling it regularly – to reduce the rice portions, to curb child obesity.

“But many vendors have also aired their concerns that it would be difficult to rotate the business model, if they aren’t selling rice and noodles at school canteens.”

She added, “The average daily calorie intake for students is 1,700 for those aged seven to nine, which is equivalent to three plates of fried noodles; 2,000 for children aged 10-12; 2,100 for female students aged 13-18; and 2,700 calories for male students aged 13-18.

“The calorie intake for children aged seven to nine should be only 150 at school break-time; and 250 for children aged 10-12 in both conventional and religious schools, as children tend to have a higher calorie intake during lunch and dinner.

“Studies conducted globally have found that children with a well-balanced diet tend to have an improved school performance. Their dietary intake must be based on healthy choices. Based on a study, children are experiencing stunted growth, due to eating instant noodles and other processed food. It can also affect their school attendance.”

Rusydiah also revealed that many Bruneian schoolchildren do not eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

“Studying can make you hungry, and children often go to the canteen at break-time,” she said.