Program to include nutrition education and exercise in Cuenca schools showing success

Apr 9, 2016 | 0 comments

By Rose Jennings

Although Ecuador did not celebrate National Nutrition Month in March, as is done in the U.S., I would like to celebrate it here with some of the learning and achievements we’ve had in the Coordinated Approach to Child Health program (CATCH) over the past two months. It really has been a journey!

(For background on the CATCH program, click here.)

– Over 20 schools in Cuenca have begun to incorporate nutrition education and some of the CATCH physical activity games into practice in their school day.

Classroom discussion about sodas.

Classroom discussion about sodas.

– 7th graders have been learning about mindful eating (eating with intention and attention), energy balance, nutrient dense foods, reading nutrition labels, portion sizes, and sugar sweetened beverages over the past six weeks. The second half of the program will feature ways to choose healthy options when eating out, picking a healthy breakfast, and cardiovascular health among other topics.

– One school from the first phase of the project celebrated their achievements with an exposition for parents and food tasting demo. They made delicious fresh juices and a fruit salad to sample and spoke about the benefits of eating healthy in front of the whole school.

chl catch2

Students examine nutritional content of energy drinks.

– Many schools have started to get creative in putting into practice the lessons and connecting them with families, through ideas for parent cooking classes, family nights, and school-wide events.

– Community members and organizations have begun to reach out to support CATCH. The Vegetable Bar, a new healthy restaurant on Paseo 3 de Noviembre along with some local chefs/food enthusiasts have offered to sponsor CATCH in the future with some fresh food demos and field trips.

– Several more local institutional collaborations have sprouted, including one with the University of Cuenca Faculty of Chemical Sciences where health promotion and nutrition departments are housed.

– Over a dozen university students are completing their teaching practicums through CATCH, actively helping the schools, with planning and some teaching practice in the classrooms implementing CATCH.

– The Ministry of Education and Consejo de Salud continues to help coordinate and support the efforts of CATCH.

Physical education class.

Physical education class.

Nothing beats seeing the lessons in action and hearing about the effect they are having. One teacher who was nervous at first about implementing the program told me that her kids have started to change the snacks they bring to school because they knew they weren’t “Go Foods.” Another teacher said she’s learning a lot about nutrition that she didn’t know before by having to review the lessons every week. She said she’s stopped drinking sodas completely.

To hear for yourself about the impact CATCH is having, check out this awesome interview from one of our kids at la escuela Tres de Noviembre at Juan Montavlo and Antonio Vega Muñoz:

Many of the schools are talking about how excessive sugar in beverages can lead to overweight and obesity, I’d love to share a healthy alternative to Gatorade, shared by registered dietitian/nutritionist and CATCH consultant Susan Burke March:

“Gatorade and other sports drinks generally contain a lot of added sugar!  In CATCH, we spend a lot of time teaching the teachers to help teach the students to read nutrition facts labels to identify how much added sugar is in each container – sometimes it’s difficult to identify.  I also emphasize that all of these drinks start with water, which means kids are spending most of their money on sugar-sweetened water.  Unless you’re exercising intensively for an hour or more, cool, pure water is your best bet for rehydrating.  If you’re exercising more, and sweating a lot, mix a liter of pure water with a cup of 100% orange or mango or pineapple juice, and a teaspoon of salt.  This mixture rehydrates with enough sodium and potassium, without added sugar.”

For more recipes, physical activity games and ideas and general updates on CATCH in Cuenca, check out our new Facebook Page:


Rose Jennings is a DrPH student from the University of Texas School of
Public Health in Austin, studying the intersection of sustainable food
systems and public health outcomes. She is in Cuenca for three months, working with CATCH as a Community Health Liaison.



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