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Home » World Food Day » Why children are “change agents” when it comes to improving family diets

Maharup Khatri

Rural Service Provider

Teaching children about the benefits of nutritious food is a way to improve family diets in mountain areas. Making it work requires co-operation from schools and parents.

Even people who live in remote communities can have their lives blighted by junk food. So, if we want to improve family diets and live healthier lives, we have to teach school age children — wherever they are — about the benefits of nutrition, insists Maharup Khatri, a Rural Service Provider with IFOAM – Organics International’s Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems project.

Why children play “a vital role” in influencing their families’ food habits

Maharup promotes nutritious food consumption in marginalised Nepalese communities who are unable to grow adequate crops for their needs and so over-rely on junk food. He believes that if children from these communities can be taught about the value of healthier eating, then the dietary habits of entire families will be transformed. A way in which this can be done, is through teaching children about the importance of nutritious food in their health. Maharup also supports seeds, eggs and local chicks to improve their production and consumption habits.

Most children below eight years old are affected with tooth decay, while others suffer from stomach problems.

“School children are change agents when it comes to improving family diets,” says Maharup. “Children are more attached to their mothers and — in our context — mothers are the kitchen masters. They make the daily decisions about food and always try to meet their children’s demands. That’s why children play such a vital role in influencing the food habits in their homes.”

In Nepal, Maharup has seen the effects of malnutrition first hand. “Local communities have insufficient knowledge of nutrition,” he admits. “Most don’t even know about the importance of the local, traditional crops they grow and are more interested in imported and packaged foods such as noodles, biscuits, chocolate, potato chips, juice etc. They don’t realise the negative effect that junk food can have.” In order to create lasting change, junk food needs to be made less accessible to children and communities and become less attractive to them.

Working together to help children eat more nutritious food

Naturally, poor diet is taking a terrible toll on young people’s health. “Most children below eight years old are affected with tooth decay, while others suffer from stomach problems such as constipation,” notes Maharup. “To make them more aware on the benefit of nutritious food, it is most important to educate them.”

That’s exactly what Maharup has been doing, by working in local schools on nutritional awareness, it has been possible to change children’s perceptions around junk food. “The programme has been very effective because we observed visible change in their perceptions,” he says. “Children used to eat junk food during their school break — but they now bring in food from home.” The school also took the decision to ban junk food, helping to break the cycle of accessibility to it.

This was only possible because schools, parents and local communities have joined together to make it work. “We not only taught students about the negative impact of junk food, but we also discussed it with their parents and school management,” says Maharup. “In the beginning it was very difficult; but, with continuous support, children gradually enjoyed local nutritious food and we started to see minimal cases of constipation and other diseases.”

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