“We know that the pandemic probably posed great challenges and may, in fact, be calling into question the progress that we were achieving in terms of the prevalence of childhood obesity,” said the agency Lusa Maria João Gregório, responsible for the National Program for the Promotion of Healthy Eating by the DGS, recognizing that many children have changed their routines, with classes in a non-face-to-face format and less physical activity.
Stressing the importance of helping families to reintroduce healthy eating habits and routines, the expert said that the manual released today by DGS serves to continue working together with families, especially since most of the snacks that children consume in schools are taken from home.
“In these meals, foods with little nutritional value and high energy density, high content of salt, sugar and fat are often consumed”, said the official, adding: “Improving the quality of these meals can, in fact, make a difference”.
Maria João Gregório also stresses that it is important to take into account not only the difference between the morning snack and the afternoon snack (which can be more reinforced), but also the portions, exemplifying: “smaller children should consume smaller portions” .
“With regard to the total energy distribution, the morning snack can represent between 5% and 10% and the afternoon snack between 10% and 15%”, he explained.
“The morning snack for a child between 3 and 9 years old can be a packet of plain milk and a piece of fruit, or yogurt and a piece of fruit, and an afternoon snack can already be for this same middle age group bread with cheese and, eventually, some vegetables, like carrot sticks, or also fatty fruits, like nuts and almonds ”, he suggested.
Questioned by Lusa about the importance of having nutritionists in schools, after the Order of Nutritionists criticized the Government for the delay in the competition for these professionals, Maria João Gregório stated: “We must have the right professionals to be able to work on these two aspects, either be it the improvement of the food supply in the school context, or later on in a set of initiatives in the area of health education, in which food education naturally fits “.
The DGS manual on school snacks reveals that about 25% of the daily energy intake of children and young people comes from snacks (morning and afternoon) and recalls that, in Portugal, 29.6% of children between 6 and 9 years old are overweight, including obesity.
“A percentage that is still very high, but that over the last few years has been decreasing, possibly as a result of the implementation of a set of important public health measures”, recalls the health authority, giving as an example the alteration of the offer school food, the tax on sugary drinks and the restriction of food advertising directed at children.
The data from the latest National Food Survey indicate that it is in the group of children and adolescents that the most unbalanced eating habits are found. Regarding the consumption of fruit and vegetables, 69% of Portuguese children and 66% of adolescents do not reach the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding a daily consumption of at least 400 grams.
DGS also recalls that the high consumption of soft drinks and / or nectars is a reality, especially in the age group of adolescents, and that the percentage of adolescents who drink soft drinks daily (daily consumption ≥220g / day) is 42%.
Since snacks represent an important part of the day’s energy consumption, the DGS manual aims to help achieve healthy snacks, suggesting that foods such as milk and dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), cereals and dairy products (bread) ), vegetables, fatty fruits (almonds and walnuts), legumes and fruit.
The document organizes foods into three distinct groups: those that should be privileged because they have essential nutrients and are low in salt and / or sugar and / or fat (yogurt, milk, fruit, brown bread, vegetables and sugar-free cereals); those that should be consumed only occasionally, because they usually have high levels of salt and / or sugar and / or fat (fruit juices, cookies, sliced cakes and flavored milks) and those that should be avoided, such as products of cold cuts, soft drinks, chocolates and commercial cereal bars.
“Many of the evaluations we make on the quality of meals show us that there is still a lot of work to do”, acknowledges the DGS, warning about the importance of consuming water, a food that cannot be missing in backpacks or lunch boxes.
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