Many schools have started breaking off for the long holiday. For over two months, learners will spend precious time with their parents, grandparents and relatives. After three months of eating monotonous school food, most parents are tempted to give their children whatever they want; be it junk, freedom to sleep or watch television for as long as they want among others.
For instance John Kwizera, a parent in Kigali, says whenever his children return home for the holiday, he normally takes them to expensive restaurants and supermarkets to have lunch and do some shopping.
“My children like ice cream, cake, chips and chicken among others. The holiday is the best time to give them whatever they want since conditions at school are not the best,” he explains.
Although parents might want their beloved children to eat anything they want (including junk), spend the whole day in bed or watching television, health experts warn that such a lifestyle can do more harm than good.
“It is absolutely wrong for children to spend their holiday in that kind of manner. Most of them are teenagers who deserve balanced meals in addition to daily physical exercises be it at school or at home,” explains Alice Murerwa, a nutritionist at Ruhengeri Hospital.
According to Murerwa, the body of teenagers grows very fast and requires important nutrients, energy and physical activity. Instead of sleeping the whole day, Murerwa says parents should encourage their children to engage in productive activities like doing some household chores and playing games such as football and basketball among others.
She further stresses that keeping the brain active during holidays is the best way to fight the constant urge to eat.
“When one is idle, all they think about is food, but with good physical exercise, more sugars get broken down to supply energy to the brain. This way your mind remains active and in turn, your demand for foods with high sugars such as chocolate falls,” she explains.
Other experts are worried that the holiday eating spree could contribute to a number of lifestyle or non-communicable diseases in children at a tender age.
Risks of childhood obesity
Several studies have suggested that poor lifestyle habits among teenagers are common during the holidays and as such the possibility of triggering childhood obesity is high especially when combined with the presence of processed foodstuffs on the market.
Obesity is now common in young people and global estimates from the World Health Organization reveal that in 2013, it accounted for over 42 million in children under the age of five of which 72 per cent are from the developing countries.
Kibagabaga Hospital nutritionist Isaac Bikorimana blames the early onset of obesity and its rise on over consumption of junk food, which is usually greater during the holidays than any other time for school going children.
“Currently, we are faced with this challenge of fried foods such as chips and crisps among others. These are high in calories and fats and besides obesity, risks of diabetes and hypertension increase. These diseases originally used to be for the old age and not the young generation,” Bikorimana says.
According to Bikorimana, children in urban areas are most affected by the consumption of processed foods as compared to those in the villages because outside the towns there are less of supermarkets and shopping centers at their disposal.
“If you randomly conduct a research, you will find that junk food is common in the towns such as Kigali. Children who live in the city centers are likely to access this more easily than those in the villages and other remote areas,” he adds.
Do not oversleep
For Dr Achille Manirakiza, a physician at the University Teaching Hospital in Kigali, concern should be over how active the lifestyle is when young people leave school.
“Sedentary life has never been good and I would compare this to sitting in the car when covering distances.
There is less work done yet you are eating foods high in sugar with a lot of proteins. High quantities of sugars are converted into glycogen and stored as muscle fat,” Manirakiza explains.
According to Manirakiza, the only way to get rid of this muscle fat is by fuelling metabolism to initiate the breakdown of excess fats into energy during which sweat is generated but from physical activity.
“Sleeping for long hours would not necessarily be an issue but physiologically, the body needs to be active to maintain a balance between the various constituents. If someone rests for the whole day, it is not good, but 8 hours is perfect,” he says.
Refrigerated drinks such as juice and soda are also very popular with many people. However, Murerwa warns against consuming processed foods and drinks that have stayed for long in the refrigerator.
“You need to understand what you keep in the refrigerator. With markets everywhere, you don’t need processed juice when you can get fresh fruits. If you want juice, buy the fruits straight from the market and enjoy the whole lot of nutrients,” Murerwa says.
Watch out for hygiene related infections
Dr Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, says the biggest challenge during the holidays is students hanging out regularly in groups, which puts them at the risk of getting diseases.
“Students tend to hang out and eat out frequently in groups. This puts them at a risk of diseases due to poor food hygiene like gastroenteritis and typhoid among others. Many students also resort to taking alcohol in holidays and are prone to health hazards from alcohol consumption”
The WHO Global Status report on alcohol and health approximates that 320, 000 people aged 15-29 years old die from alcohol-related causes every year, accounting for 9 percent of all deaths in that age group.
Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking which is common in students contributes to a number of negative health and social consequences, such as traffic accidents, violence, anti-social behavior, sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning and suicide.
Additionally, the end result of engaging in alcoholism yields danger to both the person who is getting intoxicated and those around them.
Dr Pande also adds that with poor eating habits, students too are prone to digestive disturbances, which tend to affect their norm of health. “Disturbances like dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, heart burn, constipation or diarrhea are common especially for holiday makers. This deprives them of essential nutrients,” she adds.
US Mayo Clinic also warns that since the practice of carrying food from one place to another is also high during the holidays, safety tips should be ensured to control the rise of food borne illnesses.
Students discuss their favourite meals during the holiday
Eric Kwitonda, S3 student at GS Rugando
During holidays, I eat what my parents have provided. Normally we eat meat once a week. My best time, however, is when I eat out with friends. We usually contribute money and buy pizza or samosas. I also try to drink milk everyday since I hardly get it at school.
Claudine Niragire, student at UR
At school it is hard to eat what you want because we cannot afford. During holidays, however, I like to eat snacks such as cakes, biscuits and juice among others. I always make sure I eat what I never get at school.
Christian Irakoze, S2 student at E.S Nyange
We eat the same meal at school for three months. Therefore when I go home, I maximise the opportunity by eating everything I like. During the holidays, I always have snacks in between meals.
Gisele Mukakalisa, S6 student at IFAK
I like green vegetables so I endeavour to eat them at home everyday. Since we don’t eat very well while at school, our parents on many occasions take us out for special meals comprising chips and chicken among others.
Rachael Muragijimana, student at Mt Kenya University
My parents always give me a chance to eat whatever I want during holidays. However, I like eating healthy so I make sure there is a fruit included on every menu.
José Mwubahamana, student at UR
My favourite meal is meat and posho so I make sure it is prepared at least thrice a week at home. I also buy snacks from supermarkets.
Compiled by Lydia Atieno