Children in Brunei eat too much junk food: Study

A combination of fried and sweetened foods that teenagers love to consume. It is stacked up to resemble a burger. Photo: ST

A study found children not eating enough fruits and vegetables in Brunei, with junk food increasingly becoming part of their diet, said a Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) lecturer.

Dr Nik Ani Afiqah Hj Mohamad Tuah from UBD's Pengiran Anak Puteri Rashidah Sa'adatul Bolkiah Institute of Health Sciences, said her study showed that pupils also skipped breakfast, touted as the most important meal of the day.

The research on food preferences was conducted on pupils, parents and teachers from two primary schools in the Brunei-Muara district last year.

During the recent Healthy Lifestyle Symposium at UBD, she said environmental factors play a major role in obesity, leading to excessive calorie intake and inadequate exercise.

The pupils were found to consume instant noodles rich in sodium as often as three to four times a week, she said on the sidelines of the symposium.

"Children like calorie-rich sweet food like chocolates and salty food such as instant noodles. (They) have a high frequency of eating such food," she said.

When asked why parents still feed their children fast food despite knowing its lack of nutritious value, Dr Nik said children are living an increasingly sedentary lifestyle compared to previous generations.

She noted that children now prefer unhealthy and fast food over nutritious meals because of its taste and convenience.

"It (fast food) is easy, it's filling, and it's convenient and inexpensive. Compared to other food, it's something that working people and children can go out and enjoy," added Dr Nik.

She expressed concerns with the increasingly sedentary lifestyle among children and adolescents aged with weight problems, pointing out that they will likely grow up to be obese adults.

A 2013 Ministry of Health study found that 33.5 per cent of children aged five to 19 were overweight in Brunei, while 18.3 per cent were obese.

She suggested parents try incorporating vegetables into meals while limiting portions of junk food.

In addition to having a balanced diet, she recommended schools to introduce nutrition education to schoolchildren by getting them to participate in cooking and food preparation so that they can learn basic cooking skills and pick up healthy eating habits.

"By doing this, not only it will promote long-term health benefits, but it will also provide effective nutrition education," said Dr Nik.