By MEL MARTIN
MORE and more Australian children are becoming overweight, largely because of a lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits, but gone are the days when school canteens sold mostly pies and chips.
These days, NSW public school canteens must comply with the NSW Government's Healthy School Canteen Strategy, but Coffs Harbour private schools have also joined the trend.
"We make sure we serve healthy foods," Wendy Maclean from St Augustine's School in Coffs Harbour said. "We have lots of nice salads and sandwiches. We do have pies, but they're low fat."
It's the same at Christian Community High, which sells fruit salad and salad wraps, or low fat pies and hot dogs.
And it seems the message might be getting through to young people.
"Kids order a mixture of things, but the trend is towards the healthier options," Cheryl Fisher from the Christian Community High canteen said.
According to a Federal Government's report, the number of overweight and obese Australians has almost doubled over the past 20 years and is continuing to rise.
Currently, half the Australian population is overweight or obese, including more than a third of children between the ages of seven and 11 years.
This is an important concern, as obesity is a major cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, and kidney and gallblader diseases.
It can also contribute to low self-esteem and social discrimination and has even been associated to mental illnesses.
And all these consequences are bringing the cost of obesity to an estimated $1.3 billion per year.
As part of the Healthy School Canteen Strategy, canteens have been provided with a planning menu guide and a tool kit that provides advice on implementing the strategy. Canteen staff also have access to a six-hour Fresh Tastes TAFE training program.
And the Federal Government has come to the party, offering schools a $1500 grant, which can be used for healthy eating initiatives, such as vegetable gardens, curricula resources, training or equipment to prepare healthy food.
NSW Health's manager of nutrition and physical activity, Liz Develin, said there had been a significant increase in the availability of healthy foods in NSW canteens and that the food industry had also responded well.
"New products are starting to feature regularly on canteen menus replacing those previously on offer," she said.
"Canteen staff are also combining the use of commercial products with foods prepared on the premises. Rolls, sandwiches and wraps are just a few of the healthy foods that are filling canteen counters and proving very popular with students."
Exercise is another important aspect of a healthy lifestyle so take Walk Safely to School Day today as an opportunity to show your kids how easy it is to get some easy exercise. Even if you have to drive most of the way, just park a few blocks away and walk the rest.