THE Health in Action programme fights hunger, but also obesity in children, with healthier nutrition and active play.

The programme which has been going for nearly two years now, has reached about 120 000 six to 12-year-olds in 116 needy schools, all thanks to Inmed Partnerships for Children and Mondelez International Foundation.

Mondelez SA managing director, Joost Vlaanderen, said: “We reach 46 participating schools in the Joburg area – in Soweto, Orange Farm and Diepsloot – and 70 schools in Port Elizabeth’s Kwazakhele, Motherwell and northern areas.

“Mzansi is the world’s third fattest nation – with nearly double the average global obesity rates.

“This is affecting our children at younger and younger ages. About one in four girls and one in five boys are overweight.”

He said the obesity problem would worsen the country’s existing burden of disease created by sharply rising non-communicable diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – as well as HIV/Aids and TB.

Today, Health in Action provides nutrition education, access to fresh foods and active play.

The programme also trained 252 food preparers on nutritious and balanced meal planning, portion control, healthy food preparation and good hygiene.

Health in Action also works with snack vendors to encourage them to offer healthier options as well as growing fresh fruit, vegetables and fish through garden and aquaponics initiatives at schools.

Health in Action has trained previously unemployed people to maintain food gardens at schools.

“The need for South African children to develop more active lifestyles was underlined by the results of the 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card,” said Unathi Sihlahla, programme director for Health in Action at Inmed South Africa.

Two key factors contributing to this: firstly, most children are quite inactive, watching almost three hours of TV on weekdays and more at weekends. Secondly, children in disadvantaged schools and communities are much less likely to develop active lifestyles because they have limited opportunities for physical activity.

“Physical education has been neglected in the curriculum and this is compounded by inadequate extracurricular and community sport facilities and equipment,” said Sihlahla.