Patient Education How do you make a nutritious breakfast a reality for South African kids?

Unilever is on a mission to make a nutritious breakfast an everyday reality for millions of South African children in partnership with experts around the country.

As per a Unilever commissioned White Paper, 1 out of every 5 South African kids do not eat a breakfast at home and 4 out of 5 who do eat, are having a breakfast that is not nutritious. Yet, there is evidence that eating a nutritious breakfast everyday can help control body weight, is associated with better school performance and provides kids with the energy they need to learn, play and grow. So, Unilever, listening to Nutritionists, Dieticians and other health experts around the country, decided to do something about this.

From March 28 to April 6, 2017, Unilever hosted three symposia in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, inviting nutritionists, dieticians and health experts from around the country to establish the science behind how a good breakfast behaviour change program can help to improve the nutrition of South African kids and to partner in making this a reality.

“Our mission [at Unilever] is to make a nutritious breakfast an everyday reality for school children in South Africa, an essential step towards healthier lives and better school performance” explained Duduzile Mthuli, Unilever Nutrition and Health Manager for South Africa. “Whilst government has the obligation to combat malnutrition, the private sector has substantial potential to contribute to accelerating improvements in nutrition. A need remains for innovative food products with good nutrient profiles and tested behaviour change models to bridge the nutritious gaps that still exist”, she added.

The symposia had presentations from the Department of Health and the Department of Basic education, both of which helped establish the nutrition issues facing South African children, how much has been done and where industry can partner to make even more progress. Dr Louise van den Berg (of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the Free State and author of the white paper) was a key speaker at the events and she examined the extent of the problem of malnutrition in South African children and the evidence for changing breakfast behaviour to improve their nutrition outcomes.

“Research indicates that children and adolescents who habitually consume breakfast have reduced likelihood of being overweight and more ease maintaining BMI within the normal range”, she said. “By avoiding hunger feelings in the morning, they are less likely to nibble on snack foods, particularly those high in sugar and/or fat…. The challenge is to bring about sustainable change in the breakfast behaviour of South African children, thus, increasing the number of children in South Africa that regularly consume a quality breakfast - something which is possible if approached correctly” she added.

Rebone Ntsie, Director of Nutrition at the Department of Health, explained in Cape Town that “18% of kids aged 2-5 are overweight, 25% of children aged 0-3 are stunted, 10% of children aged 0-5 are anaemic and up to 50% of kids aged 0-5 have Vitamin A deficiency.” This was similarly echoed by her colleagues Maletsema Mahonko and Gilbert Tshitaudzi. The Department of Health is implementing nutrition sensitive interventions to address this situation.

Carina Müller from the Department of Basic Education took guests at the Durban event through the pillars of the current National School Nutrition Programme. The programme was established in 1994 with the aim of providing nutritious meals in target schools, addressing learners’ ability to participate in class work, improving learners’ attendance and concentration and attaining better health through nutrition.

“The NSNP currently serves 9 313 511 learners in 20 744 primary, secondary and identified special schools a nutritious, balanced meal daily,” Ms Mmapula Molube, Chief Education Specialist explained in Johannesburg.

Attendees agreed with the science presented on the need to give kids a nutritious breakfast and most guests commended the reformulation efforts to make Rama healthier. Unilever has recently relaunched Rama margarine. Keeping in mind the nutrition deficits in regions such as Africa, Rama now has lower salt and fat and includes 9 vitamins and Omega 3 making it an optimal complement to enriching the average South African breakfast of just bread and tea or porridge and tea.

“Our nutrition approach at Unilever is to innovate to create better and more nutritious products, use our expertise in behaviour change to help consumers make better diet choices and by a combination of these two directions, help our consumers live better lives” said Myriam Sidibe, Unilever Global Director for Social Mission.

In the coming months, Unilever will be championing a Good Breakfast behaviour change program to help families give their children the recommended daily nutrients they require from an ideal breakfast. As with the symposia, Unilever will also be reaching out to experts to help make this a reality.

Author: Bamsa Godwin