March17 4March 4th- 8th marks School Health Week, during which a School Health Screening Programme will be rolled out, bringing basic health screening to children at schools in areas that have been identified as priority health districts. The programme will test the eyesight, hearing and basic oral health of children in Grade 1 and the foundation phase. Children spend the majority of their week in their school environment, so schools play a big role in helping them learn the habits of a healthy lifestyle early on. Here is an opportunity to raise awareness of children’s health in all schools as well as at home.

Concern is growing throughout the world as the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children increases. These chronic diseases have far-reaching consequences beyond childhood into adolescence and adulthood, with effects ranging from cardio-vascular disease to visual problems. By teaching healthy habits from an early age, long-term health issues can be avoided.


With the challenges of both hunger and obesity in South African children, the types of food sold in school tuck shops have an important role to play. By offering healthier food options in tuck shops, children will learn to make healthier food choices.

March17 6Provide a variety of opportunities for physical activity before, during and after school. Children should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Schools can add physical activity to their daily programmes, and encourage children to go outdoors and play during breaks.

Immunisation is a basic step in the prevention and spreading of certain diseases. Schools can provide awareness and education regarding immunisation.

Create healthier indoor environments. A litter-free classroom, fresh air and an awareness of basic hygiene can help to minimise the spread of illness from child to child. In the early school years, a child's immune system is put to the test, and illness spreads easily in large groups. Make hand-washing part of the daily routine, before eating, after using the toilet, and after playing outdoors. Encourage children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and to keep their hands away from their eyes.

Anxious unhappy children cannot concentrate and apply themselves to tasks in the classroom. Create bully-free environments, by setting up programmes and policies that make everyone feel safe and secure. Ensure that children know they have access to help and support if they are bullied.

March17 7Teach safe and appropriate use of the internet, social media and technology. Children have to understand how to connect smartly and safely to prevent the misuse of valuable personal information, which can cause lasting harm.

Schools need a crisis response and management plan that includes educating everyone about dealing with emergencies.


March17 8Parents can help their children develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong health benefits. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference over time, so set realistic goals and start small.

Talk to your children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and be a good role model for them by eating right and being physically active.

Help them to follow a healthy eating plan, by having healthy food options in the home as well as providing a healthy school lunch. If lunch is bought at school, encourage them to make healthy choices.

Make a game of reading nutrition information on food labels, helping them to become more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behaviour for a lifetime.

Encourage physical activities that your children enjoy. Every child is unique, so let them experiment with different activities until they find something they love and will participate in regularly. Get the whole family moving. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together.

March17 9Take your children for regular check-ups and ensure that the recommended immunisations are up to date.

Wherever possible, do not send sick children to school. As mentioned earlier, illness spreads rapidly among children, and it takes a single sick child for the spread to begin.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep.

Promote good habits of personal hygiene, ensuring that children wash their hands before eating and after using the toilet. Frequent hand-washing is one of the simplest and most effective steps to good health.

Limit TV, video game and computer time. These habits lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which increase risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Excessive screen time without regular breaks can lead to eye strain and computer vision syndrome. Be aware of what your children are watching on TV, and what they are engaging in when on the computer. Discuss appropriate and safe use of the internet.

Make dinnertime family time. Get your children involved in cooking and planning meals, guiding them towards good eating habits.

Be aware of your children’s emotional health, particularly at school. Encourage them to talk about any problems they may be having, and to follow guidelines to deal with bullying.

Be an advocate for healthier children. Make your voice heard. Reinforce healthy habits that are part of the school programme. By working hand in hand, parents and teachers can lead children towards healthy habits that will benefit them for life.