Paradoxically child obesity is a growing problem in New Zealand while at the same time we are confronted with more and more children going to school hungry. A local initiative in Tokoroa is attempting to tackle both these issues.
According to The Ministry of Health, “children living in the most deprived areas were five times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas”. In a paper on the topic in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Steven Kelly and Boyd Swinburn write “there is an under appreciation of the problem, as obesity has become normalised in our society. A recent survey shows that over half of parents with obese children believed that their child was a normal weight. Nine out of ten parents of obese children aged 2 to 4 years believed that their children were a normal weight. The cause for the rapid rise in obesity over the last 30 years is due primarily to an over consumption of calories. The particular problem is that the calories have been in an energy dense and nutrient poor form in both food and sugary drinks. We are continually told that if we exercise more we will lose weight. This is a myth, you cannot eat your way out of a bad diet. Over the last 30 years of the obesity epidemic, physical activity has changed very little.”
So when Tokoroa’s Amisfield Primary School Principal Bex Kilgour decided to take action she went to the local DHB for help. She was in luck as the hospital’s Food and Environmental Services Manager was Sarah Turpitt. Sarah has a background in food as a chef, tutor and food writer. “I’ve always been passionate about food, particularly healthy food,” says Sarah, “and this project sits within our remit to improve the health of our community.”
The project started as a small pilot in the hospital’s cafeteria as Ka Pai Kai. A year on Ka Pai Kai provides healthy lunches to 12 primary and pre schools in Tokoroa. They recently moved out of the hospital kitchen and into the Tokoroa Club. This represents a big step forward, says Sarah, who is grateful for the local support from groups like the club.
Reluctant to rely on government funding, the goal is for Ka Pai Kai to be set up in a way that it can be replicated by any community. An advisory committee has been formed and they are working on creating an incorporated society.
The move away from the hospital has meant volunteers can be involved. Two of the first volunteers were Rangi and Rosa; both are culinary arts graduates from Waiariki Polytechnic. Rangi sees a big need in her community for education around food and would love to hold regular cooking classes to teach people the basics and believes being involved in Ka Pai Kai is a great start.
Other local groups are also benefiting. Raukawa Trust, RauTokAE and the teen parent unit are all getting their participants involved. Many of these kids, Sarah says, have little or no cooking skills. Being part of the Ka Pai Kai programme means they will gain skills as well as gain a sense of purpose and be able to positively contribute to their community.
I visited on a Friday morning and the kitchen was buzzing as orders, which ranged from hot mac and cheese, soup and lasagne to lunch packs that included club sandwiches, yoghurt and fresh fruit were prepared and packed. The lunches aren’t free but costs are kept to a minimum. “It’s about making healthy lunches assessable,” says Sarah.
As we deliver the lunches round town, our last stop is where it began at Amisfield. Teacher Aid Alison Hopson has worked closely with Sarah and the team to bring Ka Pai Kai to fruition and has seen the effects of changing their school’s food culture firsthand. A year ago Amisfield’s tuck shop would sell up to 40 pies a day and it wouldn’t be unusual for kids to buy cookies for breakfast. Now this water only school has changed its bell times to include a fruit break.
With the effects of child obesity having long term implications, Sarah believes strongly that Ka Pai Kai “is a programme for the future”.
Want to help?
Register your interest on the Volunteering Waikato Website, www.volunteeringwaikato.org.nz Look for opportunities in the Tokoroa Area and select Ka Pai Kai.
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Around a third (36%) of New Zealand children are overweight or obese. This figure rises to 60% of Pacific Island children and 40% of Maori children. (Source NZ Nutritional Foundation)
The child obesity rate increased from 8% in 2006/07 to 11% in 2014/15. (Source Ministry of Health)