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Sep 30, 2004

Nutrition quiz seeks to promote healthy habits

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You don’t have to be a doctor to know that Belizeans are getting bigger…and I’m not referring to height. News 5′s Jacqueline Woods reports on what one group of Belizean policy makers is doing to promote better eating habits.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

In 2004, it is expected that the Ministry of Health will spend approximately fourteen million dollars in health care unlike the five million budgeted in 1998. The increase is being contributed to the fact that Belizeans have not been living a healthy lifestyle. One emerging problem is obesity.

Lorraine Thompson, T.A, Food/Nutrition Security, PAHO

?People are getting fatter and fatter in this country and there are several diseases that are associated with increasing obesity. These include diabetes, hypertension, the cardio vascular diseases, cancers, arthritis and they are several others which can all to heart attack and can all lead to stroke.?

So five years ago the Pan American Health Organization through its Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, ADM Belize Mills Limited and the Ministry of Health started targeting Belizeans at an age when good habits can be formed. Since 2000, high schools across the country have been competing in a nutrition quiz that promotes healthy eating and lifestyle.

Lorraine Thompson

?The whole idea is that we feel that is the age group that can best capture the information and have the potential to share it with their peers, with their families and members of their school community and the community at large. We believe that the studying of the nutrition information is good for them. It will help them to make healthier food choices. It has the potential for improving health.?

Today eight schools competed in the national championship. At the end of three-hour long quiz, Toledo Community College emerged as the winner.

Laurita Williams, Winning Student, TCC

?We study hard. It took a lot of time and dedication and we put God in our studies and with Him we made it in this competition and we were able to remember all that we have studied.?

Jacqueline Woods

?Did you study individually or did you meet as a group??

Maximiano Coc, Winning Student, TCC

?Sometimes we meet together but otherwise we studied individually. Well that?s basically it.?

Jacqueline Woods

?You know the objective of this quiz is to promote healthy living and proper nutrition. What do you plan to do with all of this information you?ve gathered??

Marlon Herrera

?I think we?re going to practice what we?ve learnt, share it with our families and friends because we would like the health to be for our best.?

Although the quizzes have been both informative and entertaining, have organizers been satisfied with the results? PAHO?s Technical Advisor for Food and Nutrition Security and an Advisor at the Belize Mills Secondary School Nutrition Quiz Competition, Lorraine Thompson, says while an assessment needs to be done, they are sure the message is getting across to the target audience.

Lorraine Thompson

?This year thrity-one schools out of a total of forty-two have participated and so we believe we are reaching a wider cross section of secondary students in the country and it is difficult to say the impact, but we believe the process starts with knowledge and that knowledge will eventually lead to a change in attitude and hopefully soon a change in behaviour.?

?One of our big concerns is that Belize does not have any nutritionists. We believe that the quiz can help to generate some interest among this age group so that we can have eventually people developing careers in the area of nutrition?

Unfortunately, at this time there is not a similar activity for primary school students whose capacity to eat junk food is legendary. School feeding programmes have been established to address the concern, but not all institutions have tapped into the programme.

Lorraine Thompson

?The schools complain that it is the same children who the programmes are directed to, who cannot pay. A lot of schools charge a dollar per student for the meal, but often times the students cannot pay for it and the schools have an obligation to often times still provide the meals to those children and of course there are obviously overhead costs to buy the food, to pay volunteers to cook and all of those things. So there are a lot of issues surrounding the school feeding programme.?

But that service is increasingly essential especially for those students who simply cannot go home due to distance or other circumstances. In the meantime for the students who took part in this year?s competition, are hungry for more.

Jacqueline Woods

?This quiz has been ongoing for five years now, do you think it is something that should be continued?

Laurita Willaims

?Well, yes because health is a very major problem in the Caribbean right now so that should be promoted.?

Jacqueline Woods for News Five

Private sector companies are encouraged to support a similar quiz for primary schools. If you would like to get involved please contact Lorraine Thompson at PAHO.

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