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Small changes can have incredible impact, as has been proven by an exceptional New Zealand school.

In 2006, Yendarra School in South Auckland introduced a water-only policy. That meant no sugar-sweetened beverages were allowed on campus, whether sold at the school or brought from home.

Junk foods like pies, icy poles and ice-creams were also taken out of the picture. Parents were encouraged to provide their kids with lunches comprised of real whole food, like salads, sandwiches, fruit, milk and water.

Between 2007 and 2014, researchers from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service monitored outcomes of the policy.1

In preliminary findings, researchers discovered those at Yendarra had half a rotten tooth less compared with kids who attended 8 other schools in the area.

A large difference, the researchers explain, with an outcome that cannot be rationalised as chance or influenced by other factors measured.

The school has also seen improvements in attendance, achievement, behaviour, and even skin infections.

“The kids lost so much weight because they weren’t having sugary drinks that they had to bring in smaller uniforms,” anti-sugar campaigner and public health dentist Dr. Rob Beaglehole told Stuff.co.nz.

We think this example requires urgent attention from our Health Minister (she could use a feel-good story).

The wonderful work at Yendarra

Concern that the high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to hyperactive, unhappy, unsettled, and even aggressive behaviour led to the introduction of the policy.

Principal Susan Dunlop, in a presentation about the experience of making the school sugar-free, recounts, “10 years ago our kids were either too hyper or too lethargic to want to learn and obesity was highly prevalent.” Now, the kids are enjoying healthier foods, encouraging better eating at home, and happier and more settled in the classroom and playground.

The policy has truly made a difference to the young people’s lives.

Check out the presentation – a worthwhile and inspiring 16 minutes – and share on with your school, principal or local MP. It is something schools and government in New Zealand, Australia and beyond can all learn from.

Small changes with huge impact

Yendarra School is a Decile 1a primary school, situated in a low-socio economic community predominantly comprised of Pacific and Maori families.

When introducing the changes to student’s food and drink, the wider community reacted well (to the school’s surprise). Benefits to health are now being felt beyond the school grounds. Homes that once were swimming in fizzy drink are becoming water only.

These shifts will also impact the health-care system.

Dr. Simon Thornley, study author and public health doctor, says a strict nutrition policy is “likely to reduce health-care costs associated with the treatment of cavities…I think we worked out we spend about $20m a year in NZ putting kids under general anesthetic to treat the sugar addiction. To me it’s totally unnecessary.”

Dr. Beaglehole says 5,500 children under the age of 8 are placed under general anesthetic to remove rotten teeth. An experience not fun for anyone.

Schools are pivotal in providing healthy eating education, influencing not only the health of the kids but also their family and beyond.

Yendarra School proves that a straightforward, real food, no added sugar policy benefits students socially, physically, emotionally, cognitively and culturally. Changing their lives, now and in the future, for the better.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)

 

References:

  1. Thornley, S., Marshall, R., Reynolds, G., Koopu, P., Sundborn, G. and Schofield, G. (2017), Low sugar nutrition policies and dental caries: A study of primary schools in South Auckland. J Paediatr Child Health. doi:10.1111/jpc.13449