By Adeline Huang
Ten-year-old Peter* is a latch-key child. Both his grandparents, who care for him, work through the day and have no time to cook for him. Unsupervised during mealtimes after school, he spends his pocket money on soda and chips and eats instant noodles for lunch every day.
During home visits to beneficiaries of the Walk with the Poor (WWTP) programme, Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) social workers observed a consistent trend of very unhealthy eating behaviours in the children, as typified by Peter's case.
There is a dire need to address the issue of bad eating habits that could lead to diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and high-blood pressure in the long run.
Last month, 41 WWTP families and their befrienders began participating in a pilot nutrition programme that aims to encourage the families to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables weekly, and educate them on eating more healthily.
MWS' WWTP programme supports low-wage earners who live day to day. Described as "the bottom fifth of society", these chronically poor families face shrinking incomes (less than half of the current national median per capita monthly household income of $1,920) and employment woes, often compounded with health and family-related problems.
Their primary concern is to have enough to pay the bills. There is little time to spare for cooking and food choices are limited to what is cheap and available. This lifestyle makes them vulnerable to diet-related diseases and thus increases their medical bills, resulting in a tumultuous long-term struggle, with negative effects being passed to the next generation.
Thus, having children in the household aged 18 and under was a key factor in selecting the 41 families for this pilot. With mealtimes generally going unsupervised, the children often chose to consume fast food or junk food.
To educate participants about eating right on a tight budget and making better choices in their diets, nutrition-related training will be provided by partnering agency WINGS (Women's Initiative for Aging Successfully). A key misconception to be addressed is that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is expensive.
The participant families will be encouraged to record their meal choices on a weekly basis, with guidance from their befrienders. Befrienders would help reinforce learning about budgeting, home-cooking, and reading nutrition labels.
The programme also provides additional monthly subsidies. Three to five-member households will receive an additional $40 on top of their $100 monthly assistance from MWS while six to eight-member households will receive an additional $60.
MWS welcomes healthcare and nutrition professionals willing to volunteer their services for the poor families under our care. To find out more about how you can help or get involved in our nutrition programme, please email WWTP@mws.org.sg.
*Not his real name
Adeline Huang is an Executive (Communications and Fundraising) at Methodist Welfare Services, and worships at Christ Methodist Church