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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ministry urged to conduct more detailed studies of obesity in school children

Posted on 9:25 PM by Willie a.k.a Reptoz

MIRI: More comprehensive studies need to be carried out on the real cause of obesity in school children.

The recent issue of what to sell or not to sell in school canteens had led the Ministry of Health’s Nutrition Division to consider banning some 15 food items deemed unhealthy for children.

“I hope that the government does a proper study before coming up with more bans on the types of food to sell in school canteens,” said the SJK(C) Chung Hua Miri canteen operator Goh Chiew Kok yesterday.

Goh and his spouse won the tender of being the school canteen operator in October last year, and had paid the tender price of RM60,000 upfront for 10 months’ of operation in the school.

The typical canteen operator faces short operation hours and long school holidays which added to their pressure of trying to run a business profitably.

“We are barely making ends meet nowadays, and with more restrictions on what we can or cannot sell, it really squeezes our margins very tightly,” said Goh who professed to be in the canteen business since 1985.

From his experiences of being a canteen operator in various schools, he observed that it is harder to do business in Chinese schools due to the need for greater variety demanded by their customers.

“I have many relatives in the food canteen business in Miri, and they told me about the high rentals like us too. It’s easier in a Malay medium school, because they liked food like nasi lemak while Chinese school pupils don’t,” he said.

He also related problems of the typical canteen operators like him, who had to employ seven to eight workers at an average pay of RM700 or more per month and which adds up to the overhead of another RM60,000 annually.

His workers had to do extra chores of cleaning up after customers who also brought in outside food.

“We already stopped selling junk foods and certain types of foods like keropok and carbonated drinks. But our customers will buy from outside and bring into school, and they also complained about us not selling things they liked like carbonated drinks,” he explained.

His canteen already sells fried rice, and fried noodles, but he felt it is unsuitable to sell noodle or kuey teow soups which can be dangerous to kids if the hot soup is spilled accidentally.

He was fortunate that his canteen was allowed to sell stationery which helped them make extra profits.

He told of some schools with cooperatives that restrict what the canteen can sell, and even some school cooperatives which operated their own canteens.

“My wife has to wake up as early as 1.30am to prepare for the day in school, fetch our workers to the canteen by 4.30am, and prepare for the next day until late at night. We make sure our food is fresh and of good quality, so it’s very hard work, and we barely have enough sleep except for weekends,” he added.

Meanwhile, an educationist who declined to be named also hoped that the authorities do a more thorough study on the real causes of child obesity instead of blaming it all on the school canteen.

A research conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia revealed that in 2000, the obesity rate among children aged between 7 and 12 was 9.7 per cent, while in 2008, it had increased to 13.7 per cent.

Source: The Borneo Post

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