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Belize Expo on healthy eating habits

GeneralBelize Expo on healthy eating habits

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 7, 2024

Today, hundreds of pre-school, primary, and high school students from the Belize District gathered at the Belize City Civic Center for the Health and Nutrition Expo. This event, titled “Healthy Schools, Healthy Habits, Healthy Belize,” is a joint venture among the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW), the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Agriculture. It focuses on the critical role of a nutritious diet, starting from a young age, aiming to cultivate a healthier Belizean society.

“As we have been saying for a long time, we have to address the issues of non-communicable diseases that are affecting our society: — diabetes, cancer, and all these things that are prevailing in our country, and we need to reduce them. And the only way we can do so, is if our people start to eat healthy, start to build those healthy habits; and it has to start not only from the schools, but from home,” said the Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Kevin Bernard, explaining the goal of the event.

The Nutrition Expo follows the 2023 launch of the National Nutrition Policy by the MoHW, which, in collaboration with partner ministries, strives to integrate healthy eating practices within the educational system, despite challenges posed by the convenience and cost-effectiveness of fast food.

“It’s best to try to start to live healthy lives, because it then turns out to be more expensive to maintain your life if you have to end up in the hospital, if you have to end up on dialysis, or end up with cancer,” the minister said.

To support the initiative, the Ministry of Education has rolled out the National Healthy School Feeding Program, ensuring nutritious meals for over 100,000 students within the system. So far, 35 primary and 9 high schools have participated, with more to join in the current year.

“We believe that represents a unique opportunity to really instill in our students these healthy habits, which will ultimately lead to them leading healthy lives, and Belize becoming a healthier country,” shared Minister of Education, Hon. Francis Fonseca, noting the positive response both teachers and students have shown in taking ownership of the program.

“I really do think that this initiative about health and healthy eating is very good for preschool-age children, as it is important to teach them about the importance of eating healthy and exercising from a very young age, so that they input this lifestyle into their daily habits, and they learn from the start that health is wealth,” Melanie Cummings, a teacher of 13 years at Lloyd Coffin Preschool, told us. “We do have some students that are not used to it, so we are doing our best to educate the parents and educate the students about the importance, so that eventually it will be a healthy habit at home and school.”

The Expo also featured contributions from various national and international partners, including NGOs, businesses, and organizations like UNICEF, PAHO/WHO, U-Report Belize, and the European Union, providing interactive learning opportunities for attendees.

PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize, Karen Lewis-Bell highlighted the significance of promoting preventive measures against chronic diseases from an early age, and the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

“The non-communicable diseases are the leading causes of death and illness in the region of the Americas and also in Belize. And by promoting these preventive strategies about ensuring that we eat healthily, we engage in physical activity, we take care of ourselves, is very important in helping to prevent these chronic illnesses. And it’s never too early to start,” she said.

“It is our hope that throughout the day, different schools will come by, that they will broaden their knowledge … hopefully that this will start the journey of a healthy lifestyle for them, and that they will take the message home as well,” she added.

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