Health advisor Angela Page is passionate about teaching children to live and eat healthy.
Primary school teachers from the Southern Cooks have gathered in Rarotonga this week to learn more about nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
The workshop, run by the Ministry of Education (MoE), comes amidst fears that health problems in the Cook Islands are getting worse for young students.
MoE health advisor, Angela page, says the Ministry is finding that student health is becoming worse, even among young pupils.
“It’s just getting younger and younger each year,” she says.
The workshop focuses on improving teachers’ skills in their knowledge of tobacco and alcohol use, physical activity and healthy diets.
It aims to get the information back to the students so they can be well educated about their food choices and can then take that knowledge home.
The workshop also has a heavy focus on non-communicable diseases and how to avoid them.
“The students’ parents are dying, or have already died, from things like gout, heart attacks and other diseases common in unhealthy lifestyles,” Page says.
Although the island is abundant with healthy local produce, Page says locals are eating too much imported food.
“You will have chicken run around and pester you, but locals don’t eat them. Too many aren’t harvesting their own foods and are importing it out of convenience,”
“A lot of the locals work two jobs and they are just exhausted, so when it comes to food they often go for easy options rather than healthy ones.”
Page says while education in school is important in efforts to make changes, the biggest issue is bringing about a whole culture shift on the islands.
“Eating is such a big part of the culture here, especially within the church. Many locals are closely involved with the church and so the way the church values food really affects them,” she says.
The workshop includes guest speakers from a variety of local groups including the Ministry of Health (MoH).
MoH nutritionist Karen Tairea spoke to the teachers about basic nutrition and food groups.
“Healthy eating is a really important component of overall health, so it’s really important to get people to understand the importance at a younger age.”
The Ministry of Health also has concerns about the number of young children who have issues with obesity, she says.
“The number of overweight kids is growing, especially in primary and even pre-school students. We used to see the issue appearing around year seven and eight but now we are seeing it at an even earlier age.”
The Ministry of Health will continue to monitor the health of school students to see if the problem is getting worse, Tairea says.
“At this point, we can definitely see it is getting worse and it is a concern we will keep addressing.”
The Ministry of Education will be running similar workshops throughout the year aimed at increasing the skills of teachers in all areas of health and wellbeing.