Today we went to Sosa city (Yokaichiba) to visit the health screening of students in grades 3 and 4 students from two different primary schools. The health check team was formed by one doctor, several nurses and some dietitians. The nutrition students, supervised by the faculty/researchers from Wayo, completed the food frequency questionnaire, 24- hour recall, and daily physical activity. They also measured the height, weight and waist circumference. The children also had their pulse rate and blood pressure check. The last part of the check was the drawing of the blood sample. After the annual health check, a nutrition education program is conducted in the community. The purpose of this health screening is to prevent life-style related diseases in the early stage of life.
When we examined the children’s height and weight records, we found that there are 8 in 42 children whose weight above 20% of the standard weight according to their age and none had weights less than 20% of the standard weight. Based on Japanese health standards, a weight above 20% of the standard is considered as obesity. So in the group of students observed, about 20% of them are considered obese. Because childhood is a critical life stage for cell fission and proliferation, there is a high link between overweight in childhood and obesity in adult, which eventually results in the risk of diabetes, heart diseases, etc.
This screening system provides fairly accurate measures of children’s health and helps dietitians carry out specific diet/nutrition education for children. It was amazing to observe their data collection procedures!
The visit to the nursery school in Oyumino is one of our most impressive trips. Like the most nursery and elementary schools, it only allows indoor shoes/slippers when inside the building.
About 40 staff take care of 130 kids from 0-5 years old. For the kids under 1year old, one staff take care of 3 kids, feeding them one after the other, playing with them, changing their diapers, doing everything just like a mom. For the kids above 1year old, staff to kids ratio is 1 to 5. Children 3 years and older are allowed to feed themselves. At lunch time, a plate of vegetable and main dish are placed in the middle of the table and children use mini tongs to grab the food for themselves; furthermore they pour the “genmaicha” (cold brown rice tea) to a small tea cup and they look very comfortable doing it. This public nursery school is supported by the local government. Each child costs about $2,000 per month and 75% is paid by the government. All the staff have a nursing or cook certification and are well trained.
The school’s orchard and vegetable garden is another highlight. Donated by the director’s father, the school owns an amazing orchard with several fruit trees (orange, fig, quince, persimmon, plum). All the fruits are served to the kids when ripe and extras are preserved. Aside from the fresh fruits, the garden is used to teach the children (and their parents) about plants. There are over 100 kinds of vegetables planted in the garden. When we visited, it was full of sweet potatoes, egg plants, peppers, tomatoes, and green onions. In early autumn, when sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested, the parents are invited to the sweet potato picking event and they can bring home some of the produce.
We really liked the gardening lessons and events with parents, especially the director’s philosophy of helping children nurture a love of food and nature. Gardening events such as watering, picking, pickling throughout the whole school year really help the children build their appreciation of food and nature. When the love of food is developed in early childhood, the children benefit for their lifetime.