Students not unhappy at ban on sugary drinks

Bleys Bolton

New focus on healthy eating and drinking gains support

Students and vendors do not seem too concerned about a ban on sugary drinks and confectionery sold in schools, expressing the virtues of healthy eating and drinking.

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So Thy, principal of Chaktomuk Primary School and Khmer programme coordinator for Blue Bird British International School, said: “Before we enacted this ban, we focused on student’s hygiene and now we are focused on making sure that students and teachers can stay healthy while stopping the spread of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes or heart diseases.”

The four main types of noncommunicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and strokes), cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.

So added: “All public and private schools will have this ban enacted by next year, in 2020, and we hope that through this we can keep our people safe, happier and healthier as other countries can do.”

As stated by the WHO’s Global Student Health Survey 2013, conducted primarily among students aged 13 to 17 years old, over one month, The report found that about one in every two students drank carbonated soft drinks at least one time per day and about 3 per cent of them ate fast food at least three days per week, while most students (53.4 per cent), saw advertisements of carbonated soft drinks almost every day.

“We will enforce this ban through the use of contracts with food sellers inside school canteens, as well as working with local police to clear the pathways outside of the schools of any food sellers without proper authorisation,”  So said.

The move did not upset some students spoken to at Chaktomuk Secondary School and Sisowath High School about what they thought of the sweet drinks ban.

An 8th-grade student who only gave his name as Nak, at Sisowath High School,  said: “It will not be a problem. My class knows how to eat healthily and we don’t have a lot of sweet drinks every day.”


Sugar content


“I will be unhappy if I cannot have a Samurai or Sting [energy drink] at school, but that’s okay because maybe the school will have better drink options when the ban comes into effect,” said a student who gave his name as Pich, a 9th Grader at Sisowath High School.

Another student, who wished not to be named, studying in grade 11 at Sihanouk, said: “I wish they could keep some drinks such as  Bacchus and Red Bull because they help me have the energy to study some mornings and, without them, I cannot study well.”

The widely popular drink amongst students known as Sting contains 62.5 grammes (about 13 tea spoons) of sugar, with a total of 224 calories and 62.7 mg of total carbohydrate per 500 mililitre (ml) can, while a 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 31.8 grammes (about 9 tea spoons) of sugar and 140 calories and a 350ml bottle of Samurai – a popular drink amongst Cambodian students – contains 96 grammes (20 tea spoons) of sugar and a total of 384 calories per bottle according to Cambodia Beverage Company’s website.

Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kheang Sreng says the city is enacting a ban on all sugary drinks  and confectionery sold in schools, in conjunction with the Partnership for Healthy Cities initiative across 70 of the world’s urban areas to stop the spread of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The ministry announced in May its plans to improve health in the city’s educational institutions by prohibiting them from selling alcohol, tobacco products, energy drinks, sweet drinks, coffee, ice cream and syrup drinks, chocolate, candy and chewing gum, food that had expired, as well as doughnuts and sweets. Many Cambodians seem happy with this ban – from the students to the sellers – saying it should be a welcome change for Cambodia’s overall health.

When speaking to what was left of the confectionary sellers in front of two Cambodian public schools, Sisowath High School and Chaktomuk Secondary School, a woman who gave her name as Mak Amey said: “I have heard that the police will come and change the rules very soon. I was hoping sellers like myself can stay and sell our drinks to people who pass by because we are in a busy part of town and if we cannot make sales we cannot survive easily.”

The Partnership for Healthy Cities is a global network of urban areas that is committed to saving lives through the reduction of the spreading of non-communicable diseases and injuries, working in conjunction with Bloomberg Philanthropies, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as Vital Strategies. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries kill almost 46 million people globally each year and are responsible for 80 per cent of global deaths. According to WHO’s website, noncommunicable or chronic diseases are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression.


Changing habits


While a majority of the food that Cambodians consume comes from traditional wet markets, the market for food security is changing rapidly with convenience stores such as Circle K, Thai Hout and Super Duper, quick service restaurants such as Burger King, KFC and Carls Jr. and other modern outlets opening, offering fast and easy to access packaged foods and drinks that might not be as healthy.

According to Euromonitor retail sales in the packaged food market in Cambodia were estimated to reach $441.1 million in 2016. That represents a growth of more than 55.5 percent – $157.3 million since 2012. The forecast for growth in this market is promising for the manufacturers. By the year 2021 retail sales in the packaged food market in Cambodia are expected to reach $632 million, a growth rate of 33.5 percent or $158.8 million. When asked if the planned ban will bring reactions from her customers, Mak Amey said: “If the government remove 99 percent of the stalls, and just keep 1 per cent of the food stalls that sell healthy drinks such as tea and juices, and teach us what is healthy then maybe we could have more money from healthy food and drink sales.”


Cutting early death


This evidence has prompted government officials from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to pass a draft bill in April this year named the Draft National Policy on School Health to contribute to the promotion of education quality  –  by instructing school children and students to exercise the habits of neat and tidy living, helping to keep their school environment clean and safe with hygiene and sanitation and provide equal rights of access to healthcare services to all school children, students and education staff based on a practical plan for health potentiality checks, according to the report. It also stated in the report, that the WHO “aims to demonstrate the potential that exists for countries, and the world, to achieve the nine global voluntary NCD targets, the objective of which is to reduce premature deaths from cancers, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes by 25 per cent by 2025.”

In a report conducted  by USAID in 2015, the national prevalence of under-5 children overweight was 2.2 per cent, which had increased slightly from 1.9 per cent in 2010, while the national prevalence of under-5 being stunted was 32.4 per cent, which was greater than the developing country average of 25 per cent. Cambodia’s under-5 wasting prevalence of 10 per cent is also greater than the developing country average of 8.9 per cent. ‘

Stunting refers to a low height-for-age ratio, as a result of malnutrition and poor health. Wasting refers to children who are thin for their height because of food shortages or diseases. World Vision’s Ending Malnutrition in Cambodia report says that to fully address the causes and effects of malnutrition, and noncommunicable diseases, joint efforts are required across a range of sectors including agriculture, education, water sanitation and healthcare. Malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to infection and disease, which can prevent further progress in life. The World Food Programme has also reported as of 2018 that 15 per cent of people in Cambodia were malnourished, while 32 per cent of Cambodian children under 5 years old were stunted.

When asked whether Mak Amey planned on changing her stocks to fit the new ban, she said: “No, it’s good for the children to be healthy. Diabetes and illnesses such as that are a serious problem here.”

Another seller, who only gave her name as Lin, said: “We will have to wait and see how everything turns out. It depends how heavily they enforce the ban. Some kids come here crying for a Sting, or a Coca-Cola, and won’t leave or be quiet until I’ve given them a cup with their favourite drink.”

One consequence, of course, is that drinks companies faced with lower demand for sugary products are reconsidering their strategies. They have already started to produce products with artificial sweeteners or naturally sweet contents. The pressure forcing them to adapt has cost millions of dollars in research but so far has had no noticeable on the running of companies that dominate the beverage markets. But it has long been shown that chidren tend to have a sweet tooth and changing to healthy habits can be difficult.

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