Calorie content labels : impractical

by Dr Ben Cheah

From The Malaysian Mirror

Calorie Content Labels For School Canteen Food
Tuesday, 21 June 2011 06:45
KUALA LUMPUR — The Education Ministry has been asked to advise canteen operators to provide a total calorie content label for each type of food sold as a guide for schoolchildren.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said this measure would help build a culture of healthy eating among pupils and help them learn and understand the importance of good nutrition.

“Studies by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia showed nasi lemak, nasi ayam and fried noodles to be most popular with schoolchildren and we suggest that canteens provide a variety of food and not a few types only.

“In light of this, my ministry has advised the Education Ministry to get canteen operators provide calorie content labels for food to enable students to follow the guidelines provided by the ministry,” he said in reply to a supplementary question from Dr Tan Seng Giaw (DAP-Kepong) in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

Tan wanted to know the Health Ministry’s follow-up action to ensure the healthy eating guidelines are adhered by all parties concerned and that selling of unhealthy food outside the school premises is under control.

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I find this move to compel canteen operators to make calorie labels perplexing. If adults do not even know how to look at the calorie contents of their foodstuffs, do we expect our children to do the same??

And what exactly are our schools telling our children?? That they should cut their caloric intake?? As growing beings, the advice of calorie intake will differ with their age groups and certainly different from those of adults.

As some foods are cooked fresh, quantifying the calorie may not be practical. Unless, the Government is advocating pre-prepared food for our children, which is perhaps less healthy than the feared nasi lemak or mee goreng.

In 2001, 9.7% of students were obese and that figure rose to 13.7% in 2007. The study concluded that the increasing prevalence of obesity was attributed to unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical activity.

The study also showed that 76% of school-going children did not live a healthy lifestyle as they spent a significant amount of time in front of televisions and computer monitors.

The UKM study also showed that around 70% of students had breakfast everyday while 10% skipped it on a regular basis.
The study also reflected the students’ top picks in the food department with nasi lemak, mee goreng and nasi ayam as the most popular local dishes while fast food favourites included burgers, fried chicken and pizza.

Source : The Star

Obesity among children is a problem that reflects the lifestyle of the family from which he/she originates. The ones most responsible for their care, is their family.

The final paragraph above insinuates that breakfast is unhealthy. On the contrary, it is perhaps the most important and neglected meal of the day. As the body wakes up to a new day, providing it with the necessary energy in the form of calories is prudent.

So my advice is, educate the general public on a change in lifestyle. As children are impressionable, adults that practice a healthy way of living will act as a role models for their children. Similarly, teachers should set an example themselves and should not have unhealthy foods served at their cafeterias as well.

Making traditional caloric content is a waste of time. Perhaps using color codes for different foods may be wise. This makes it fun when children do make a choice on their types of food.

Changing eating habits and fighting obesity is a lifelong battle. As such, education should be the top priority. Telling children for the sake of telling them is not sufficient. Just because you put the topic in a syllabus does not equate to doing the job. We need to relook into the way we educate our children to ensure that they practice what is being taught. From classroom activities to day trips, there are ways of making learning fun and effective.

We should not just talk and apply rules for the sake of answering a question during a parliamentary session. If we are serious about a solution, we need to think harder rather than a knee jerk response so typical of politicians.