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National Nutrition Week encourages learners, teachers and parents to eat healthily

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) continues to provide healthy meals to more than 9 million learners in Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools, including targeted learners in Quintile 4 and 5. A nutritious lifestyle is essential for healthy growth and development. As learners prepare for the NSC Examinations, it is important for learners, parents and teachers to remember that healthy meals will contribute to increased concentration levels and academic success. Undernourished learners have weaker immune systems, and may be at a greater risk of severe illness.

National Nutrition and National Obesity Weeks (NNOWs) are celebrated annually from 9 to 15 October and from 15 to 19 October respectively to create awareness amongst learners and consumers about obesity and the importance of eating healthily. As from 2021, South Africa will be celebrating World Obesity Day with the rest of the world on 4 March, but will still celebrate National Nutrition Week from 9 to 15 October of each year. The 2020 NNOW theme is “Good Nutrition for Good Immunity”.

Evidence on increasing obesity and overweight among children shows the importance of healthy eating patterns, especially in the context of the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, and those who are food insecure, overweight or obese and/or have comorbidities related to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). The objectives of this year’s NNOWs are to emphasise the health benefits of choosing healthy whole foods from a variety of mostly plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit, legumes and minimally processed starchy foods; encourage learners to make healthy, affordable food choices; and provide learners and school communities with practical tips when planning, buying, preparing and eating food during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Poor diets are amongst the leading health and societal challenges of the 21st Century, with an estimated 265 million people facing acute hunger by the end of 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted food environments and eating habits globally. Many pre-packaged foods are processed with high levels of added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates. Research has connected these nutrients to increased obesity and chronic nutrition-related diseases.

A healthy dietary pattern with vegetables and fruit, wholegrains, nuts, and seeds; plain drinking water, modest amounts of animal source foods and minimal amounts of processed meats is important for good health and immunity. Consumption of ultra-processed food that is high in fat, sugar and salt should be limited and sugary drinks should be avoided. Individuals should be mindful of healthy eating habits to reduce susceptibility to, and long-term complications from Covid-19, and try to maintain healthy diet, exercise regularly and get adequate sleep.

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