Learners starved of nutrients in boarding schools – Research Shows.
According to Dr Serrem, boarding schools, particularly county, sub-county, and low-cost ones, are feeding students unbalanced diets, jeopardizing their physical and cognitive development.
In a study that Serrem recently published with colleagues at the Institute of Business Economics, Leadership, and Management at Szent Istvan University in Hungary, students are primarily fed starchy staples (over 60 per cent of the diet).
According to the researchers, high fibre foods, primarily maize and beans, as well as foods like ugali (stiff porridge) and rice, were served on the menus. Fruits, vegetables, and high protein foods such as meats, eggs, and milk are among the least consumed.
In most cases, students were underfed on nutrients like Vitamin A, folic acid, potassium, calcium, proteins, and Vitamins B1–12, resulting in low energy provision that students would require as young adults.
The study, titled ‘Paucity of Nutrition Guidelines and Nutrient Quality of Meals Served to Kenyan Boarding High School Students’, claimed that the issue was widespread due to the lack of a national school feeding policy and nutrition guidelines.
Worse, most school administrators lack knowledge of the necessary food rations, nutrient content, and feeding patterns when administering food to children and adolescents, according to the study, which included 50 secondary schools in eight counties out of 3,000 schools nationwide.
It evaluated the portion size and composition of daily meals served to boarding students aged 15 to 18. Elgeyo Marakwet, Kakamega, Kisumu, Laikipia, Nairobi, Nakuru, Nandi, and Uasin Gishu were among the counties sampled.
Despite Kenya’s extensive database of nutrient-dense foods, researchers discovered that none of the sampled schools met the Food and Agriculture Organization’s basic nutritional guidelines for students.
Feeding students starchy and unrefined foods like maize meal or ugali, as well as high-fibre vegetables like kale, according to the scholars, was a cost factor and kept students fuller for longer. “This means students can concentrate for longer periods of time without feeling hungry,” according to the study.
According to the report, students in national schools consume enough protein, whereas students in county and sub-county schools are primarily fed starchy foods and high-fibre vegetables. Milk is only available in public schools.
Protein and other micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins are important in adolescent nutrition because they provide structure for the body and are major components of bones, blood, muscle, cell membranes, enzymes, immune factors, and brain development.
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Even in situations where parents could influence the provision of balanced diets in schools, this does not occur, particularly in private boarding schools where students are primarily served rice, potatoes, and chapatis. According to the researchers, these foods have low mineral content because the majority of the nutrients are removed during the husk processing.
In comparison to the other school categories, calcium intake was found to be highest in national schools, most likely due to the availability of milk. Nonetheless, the ability of most boarding schools to meet phosphorous, zinc, and iron requirements has been attributed to the consumption of cereals and pulses, which are high in these minerals.