Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have emerged as a significant global health challenge, affecting individuals across all age groups. While NCDs are often associated with adulthood, there is a growing concern about their prevalence among children. Schools are key institutions in shaping young minds and hold a huge opportunity to shape behaviours, hence playing a crucial role in preventing NCDs and promoting lifelong health. To shed light on the same, we spoke to our expert Dr Smriti Pahwa, Regional Director, Regional Director- North India, Arogya World, who explained how to prevent children from NCDs at school.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs account for 41 million annual deaths worldwide, or 74% of all fatalities. The majority of NCD deaths, 17.9 million annually are caused by cardiovascular illnesses, which are followed by death by cancer (9.3 million), chronic respiratory diseases (4.1 million), and diabetes.
“Childhood diabetes rates in India have increased three-fold over the last 30 years. More than 10% of India’s children, even as young as five years of age, are said to be pre-diabetic. 75% of the adolescents get “insufficient physical activity”, added Dr Pahwa.
NCDs: Prevention is Key
Non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and certain types of cancers, are primarily caused by lifestyle factors.
To fight against NCDs, adolescents should be prioritised as target groups for interventions due to their high adaptability and likelihood to be motivated for appropriate lifestyle modifications, and the fact that most of the NCD risk factors are behaviourally acquired during adolescence. Ensuring the health of the next generation should be a key focus area and early intervention work.
Education as a Foundation
Incorporating health education into the school curriculum empowers children to make informed decisions about their well-being. Dr Pahwa listed the following topics to be integrated into their routine:
- Importance of balanced nutrition
- Dangers of excessive sugar and salt consumption
- Benefits of regular physical activity
Health education should not only focus on theoretical knowledge but also include practical skills, such as cooking healthy meals and cultivating an understanding of food labels, added Dr Pahwa.
Physical Activity Programs
Dr Pahwa listed the following physical activity programs to help prevent NCDs:
- Schools should prioritise physical education, ensuring that students engage in age-appropriate exercises
- Schools can initiate sports clubs, dance classes, and outdoor play, to make physical activity enjoyable and accessible for all students
- Minimising sedentary behaviour, such as prolonged screen time, should be a collective effort involving both educators and parents
“Schools play a vital role in shaping children’s eating habits, and therefore, they should provide nutritious and well-balanced meals prioritising fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins”, said Dr Pahwa. Furthermore, schools should limit the availability of unhealthy snacks and beverages. Educating students about the nutritional value of different foods and the consequences of excessive consumption of processed foods is essential.
Creating Supportive Environments
Dr Pahwa added, “Schools must strive to create a supportive environment that fosters healthy behaviours beyond academics. This involves promoting mental health and stress management, as these factors can influence lifestyle choices. Implementing wellness policies that address physical activity, nutrition, and mental health can guide schools in creating an environment conducive to overall well-being.”
Involving Parents and Communities
Collaboration between schools, parents, and communities is essential. Dr Pahwa suggested the following measures:
- Parental involvement can extend the impact of health education and reinforce healthy habits at home.
- Schools can organise workshops, seminars, and community events to engage parents in discussions about NCD prevention.
- Community partnerships with local health organisations, fitness centres, and nutritionists can provide valuable resources and support.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Dr Pahwa highlighted, “To ensure the effectiveness of NCD prevention strategies, schools should implement monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Regular health assessments, including physical examinations and screenings, can help identify potential health risks among students. Feedback from students, parents, and teachers can inform adjustments to existing programs, making them more responsive to the evolving needs of the school community.”[Disclaimer: This article contains information provided by an expert and is for informational purposes only. Hence, we advise you to consult your expert if you are dealing with any health conditions.]