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Published 26th August 2010, 3:57pm

Starting this September, students attending government schools will have healthier food options during lunch and snack breaks. When the Health Services Authority's 2008-09 Annual School Health Screening reported that 37 percent of students aged 11 to 14 are either overweight or obese, Education Minister, the Hon. Rolston Anglin, JP, determined that he would do his part to address this childhood weight problem. Results from the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Global School-based Student Health Survey only strengthened his resolve. It reported that in Cayman, 58 percent of boys and 64 percent of girls aged 13 to 15 spend more than three hours daily watching television, playing computer games, or otherwise sitting and socialising outside of school hours. Of the 34 countries surveyed, Cayman's youth were revealed as being the most inactive. "We are a very small country compared to most of those included in the WHO report," said Minister Anglin. "So it's quite alarming that our youngsters should top the lowest activity list." As such the Ministry of Education is advancing the fight against childhood obesity - at least in government schools. Ministry officials recently implemented the Cayman Islands Public Schools: Standards for Food Provision (CISFP) as part of the requirement for canteen contracts, which are publicly tendered. The CISFP document stipulates the healthier meal options that must be offered during lunch and snack breaks in government school canteens. It also bans fast food delivery or consumption while students are on campus. The document was developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the Children's Health Taskforce. "Poor childhood nutrition can have lasting effects, impairing cognitive development and school performance," Minister Anglin continued. "This is our opportunity to make a measurable difference in student health and well-being. "Research consistently shows that children who eat healthier meals perform better academically and are absent from classes less often." For these reasons, the tender document lists 11 standards as guidelines for the different types of food groups and details items that should and shouldn't be served in school. It also outlines the frequency with which certain foods should be offered. Serving- and good practice suggestions are also outlined. Examples include the use of lean meats; preparing baked rather than fried items, and providing drink options that do not contain preservatives, flavouring or colouring. Deep-fried foods and fatty meat products are restricted and may only be served once every fortnight. Certain items such as snacks having a high salt and fat content are also no longer allowed as part of the school lunch- or break service. Most of the new snack and drink options offered comply with the Competitive Food Guidelines developed by the US-based Alliance for a Healthier Generation. It aims to reduce childhood obesity by 2015 and empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. The alliance was founded in 2005 by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. "We are of course aware that initially, students may be reluctant to try new or strange dishes," Minister Anglin noted "So we're taking steps to ensure that the meals are both attractive and tasty. Children will also be able to request small 'taster' portions for dishes which may be unfamiliar." For more information on the Cayman Islands Public Schools: Standards for Food Provision visit the Ministry's website: www.education.gov.ky. (GIS)