The Far North is welcoming the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education's nationwide push to ban sugary drinks.
The ministries have joined forces to encourage schools to consider adopting a water-only (and plain fat-reduced milk) policy, in line with World Health Organisation recommendations for creating healthy school environments.
Sugary drinks are widely recognised as one of the most significant causes of poor oral health and a significant contributor to childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The latest NZ Health Survey data show that 17 per cent of Northland children drank soft drinks regularly, Maori children at more than twice the rate of non-Maori.
Healthy Families Far North has also welcomed the campaign, recognising that each school will make its own decision, working collaboratively with key stakeholders to bring water-only policies in schools to fruition. The Far North District has 67 primary, composite and secondary schools that to varying degrees have implemented internal policies to support health-promoting environments.
Kaitaia's Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Pukemiro has in place a Healthy Choices, Healthy Lifestyles policy designed to support school-based and lifelong success through the provision of healthy food choices. Encouraging students to drink 'wai Maori' is one procedure in that policy, that aligns with Te Aho Matua school curriculum principles.
Former trustee and senior kaiako Hori Chapman said encouraging tamariki to drink water at the kura was "the norm".
"Drinking water is part of accelerated learning and maintaining good levels of hydration, so the policy is critically important," he said.
Implementing a water-only policy was connected to supporting whanau to make good eating choices, acknowledging that there could often be a conflict between the behaviours promoted at the kura and those normalised in the home.
Students agreed that drinking water was the healthiest choice when presented with options.
"Fizzy drink is really really bad because it makes you fat and gives you lots of calories," student Asher Williams said.
"We're technically only allowed to drink water or milk here anyway. It's not as if fizzy comes out of the taps," Ty Pomare said.
The government push for water-only schoolgrounds aligns with the kura's recent movements to further promote the health of its students. Earlier this year the kura began to offer the Real Kai service - a low-cost food delivery service that maximises locally grown, seasonal produce - which had been a hit with whanau.
Te Taitokerau Iwi CE spokesperson and Te Runanga o Te Rarawa chief executive Kevin Robinson said the battle for sugar-free drinks was being won when mokopuna asked for inu wai as their first choice.
"We've beaten it when the day comes that we can have a can of fizzy in the fridge, and in six months' time it's still sitting there," he said.