The World Food Programme (WFP) – in collaboration with the School Health Department at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – is launching an innovative social and behavioural change communication campaign to improve the diets of primary school children.

In a September 13 press release, it said many students suffer from nutritional problems, including high micronutrient deficiencies, high overweight and obesity rates or chronic malnutrition.

The nutrition-in-schools campaign was developed by WFP and the ministry at a workshop last weekend, with representatives of UN agencies, civil society organizations and Ministry of Health, among others, in attendance.

WFP country director Claire Conan said there are many factors that contribute to the malnutrition of school-age children, with their behaviour and that of their caregivers among them. An effective campaign that educates children about the importance of a nutritious and balanced diet will be a key factor in contributing to their long-term health development.

“Building on our long-standing engagement in school meal programmes, we are now working with the School Health Department and partners to develop a campaign which encourages increased consumption of fruit, vegetables and proteins,” she said.

According to the press release, schoolchildren in Cambodia suffer from high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, rising overweight and obesity rates and the lingering burden of undernutrition. The rapid proliferation of highly processed foods in recent years has had a significant impact on the quality of diet.

At the same time, diet diversity remains relatively low, it added. Rice, meat, and fish consumption are high, while fruit, vegetables and consumption of other animal-source proteins like milk or eggs fall below international guidelines.

“This is concerning because despite some progress in reducing the burden of wasting, stunting and underweight children in Cambodia, undernutrition remains a persistent problem at the household level,” said Chhay Kimsotheavy, director of the School Health Department.

He said WFP has been working with the government to provide nutritious school meals to primary and pre-primary school children since 1999, which had helped to improve nutritional outcomes as well as student attendance, concentration and learning.

He said, however, that school meals represent only a portion of children’s diets and do not tackle food consumption at home or unhealthy snacking behaviours.

The campaign will help advance the goals of the 2019 national policy and action plan on school health, as well as the Standard Guidelines for School Health Promotion, all of which include strategic priorities aimed at promoting improved dietary and health behaviours for schoolchildren and their caregivers, added the release.