Growing strong Grey boytjies

2011-11-12 18:16

South Africa’s children are growing fat and unfit. Some schools lack the resources to offer learners regular sport and recreation.

Others struggle to establish a culture of good eating habits in the face of poverty, malnutrition and the temptations of tuck shops selling cheap junk food to hungry learners who want a sugar rush from the nearest fatcake or fizzy drink at break time.

Rich or poor, kids will be kids.

But in the face of such challenges, we found a number of schools across South Africa that are doing their best to turn the tables.

We met teachers who care deeply about the health and development of the children in their charge.

We learned more about the education department’s feeding schemes that provide a hot, nutritious meal each day to children who would otherwise go hungry.

We spoke to sports teachers, principals, tuckshop moms, school nutritionists and dozens of children themselves to hear their views on health, diet and exercise.

Without exception, the educators we spoke to agreed: children who have access to nutritious food and plenty of exercise are healthier, happier and wide awake in the classroom.

These are their stories.

Boys will be boys. This was clear during a lunch-break visit to one of the country’s top sporting schools.

Grey College in Bloemfontein boasts an on-campus gym, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a whole team of nutritionists. But the lunchtime rush of teenage boys to the tuck shop to buy junk food drowned in tomato sauce was the same as at any other school.

The tuck shop’s most popular item is a Grey Boytjie – egg and bacon on a hamburger bun – with a Coke to “wash it down”, says 8th grader WJ van Huyssteen (15).

This is his favourite meal and it costs R19.

Van Huyssteen’s friend and classmate, Jaden Rodgers (14), said by first break at 11am, he had already eaten the contents of his lunch box – a white bread sandwich with cheese and strawberry jam with two chocolates and an apple.

“My mom does pack me sandwiches sometimes, but I prefer to eat at the tuck shop. Today I shared my lunchbox with WJ and in return he bought me a toasted cheese and ham sandwich.”

In contrast, Heinrich Bitzi (16) says his mom packs him two lunch boxes a day – one for each break, so he rarely visits the tuck shop.

“I had a brown bread sandwich with cheese and apricot jam at first break and a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich for second,” said Bitzi while chewing on a piece of biltong, homemade by his dad.

Grey College is a boarding school but headmaster Johan Volsteedt admits they don’t have much control over what the boys who don’t stay in the hostel eat. All learners are compelled to take part in games and sport at least once a week. “Nutrition is 80% of a healthy lifestyle and the rest is exercise.”

Volsteedt says sport counts for 25% of their Life Orientation points.

In addition, every boy is weighed and tested for core stability – how the abdominal muscles help coordinate movement – at the start of each term.

Christopher Steyn, a sport scientist who is responsible for fitness training, says it’s easy to spot the boys who are eating healthily by observing their concentration in class. “A boy who eats balanced meals and gets lots of exercise is much more focused than one who does not,” he says.

Says 18-year old Lindani Wlaza (Grade 12) while doing stretches in the school gym: “Exercise helps with stress before an exam.”

On Thursday, hostel boarders were lining up for pasta, chicken, beans and mash and the most important ingredient on the table – tomato sauce.

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