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26 February 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Vegetable tunnels
Two vegetable tunnels were recently established on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to contribute to the fight against food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a problem on university campuses worldwide. The three campuses of the University of the Free State (UFS) are not exempt from this plight. Research findings indicate that more than 64% of students at the university go through periods of hunger.

Annelize Visagie, , from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading the Food Environment Office at the UFS, confirms that food insecurity at higher education institutions is not a new phenomenon.

In a study with first-year students as focus, Visagie found that academic performance declines and coping mechanisms increase as the severity of food insecurity increases.

“Students use different coping mechanisms, with an alarming percentage of students (40,6%) using fasting as an excuse to friends for not having food, 60% of students skipping meals because they do not have enough money, and 43,2% of students being too embarrassed to ask for help.”

Visagie states that various factors contribute to this alarming scenario, with the main reason being that the majority of students come from impoverished economic and social circumstances. This suggests that although students receive NSFAS funding or any other bursary, it is not a guarantee that they are food secure.

Focus on student wellbeing
Aligning with the UFS strategic goal of improving student success and wellbeing, UFS staff is working hard to implement initiatives and obtain sponsorships and food donations to ensure that students do not go hungry.

Members of the university’s Food Environment Project, Drs Johan van Niekerk and JW Swanepoel from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), and Karen Scheepers from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading KovsieAct partnered to move the existing vegetable tunnels on the UFS experimental farm to the Bloemfontein Campus.

The construction of the tunnels and boxes was financed by Tiger Brands. Professor Michael Rudolph and Dr Evans Muchesa who are involved with the Siyakhana Food Gardens, assisted with the training of students and consultation throughout the project.

The two tunnels (30 m x 10 m each) are covered with netting, and two water tanks with pumps are fitted to provide the necessary irrigation.

Vegetables add value
Dr Swanepoel explains: “In each tunnel there are 20 raised wooden boxes. Each residence received one box where they planted one type of vegetable crop, including Swiss chard, cabbage, carrots, beet, kale, and broccoli.”

Residence Committee members from all on- and off-campus student communities in civic and social-responsibility portfolios, as well as civic and social-responsibility student associations, received the necessary training to plant vegetables.

The vegetables were planted in mid-February and the first harvest is expected around mid-April.

This initiative, which will help students in the near future to keep the hunger pangs at bay in a healthy way, adds to the existing No Student Hungry programme. Visagie says it is important for the university to assist students in making healthy choices and to educate them on decisions to secure nutritional food for themselves.

In addition, the university also received food parcels from Rise Against Hunger, together with donations from organisations such as Gift of the Givers – providing 200 food parcels to students on the Qwaqwa Campus, and the recent donation from Tiger Brands – providing 500 food parcels to students.

News Archive

To tan or not to tan: a burning issue
2009-12-08

 Prof. Werner Sinclair

“Some evidence exists which implies that sunscreens could indeed be responsible for the dramatic rise in the incidence of melanoma over the past three decades, the period during which the use of sunscreens became very popular,” says Prof. Werner Sinclair, Head of the Department of Dermatology at the University of the Free State. His inaugural lecture was on the topic Sunscreens – Curse or Blessing?

Prof. Sinclair says the use of sunscreen preparations is widely advocated as a measure to prevent acute sunburn, chronic sun damage and resultant premature skin aging as well as skin malignancies, including malignant melanoma. There is inconclusive evidence to prove that these preparations do indeed achieve all of these claims. The question is whether these preparations are doing more harm than good?

He says the incidence of skin cancer is rising dramatically and these tumours are induced mostly by the ultra-violet rays.

Of the UV light that reaches the earth 90-95% belongs to the UVA fraction. UVC is normally filtered out by the ozone layer. UVB leads to sunburn while UVA leads to pigmentation (tanning). Because frequent sunburn was often associated with skin cancer, UVB was assumed, naively, to be the culprit, he says.

Exposure to sunlight induces a sense of well-being, increases the libido, reduces appetite and induces the synthesis of large amounts of vitamin D, an essential nutritional factor. The use of sunscreen creams reduces vitamin D levels and low levels of vitamin D have been associated with breast and colon cancer. Prof. Sinclair says the 17% increase in breast cancer from 1981 to 1991 parallels the vigorous use of sunscreens over the same period.

Among the risk factors for the development of tumours are a family history, tendency to freckle, more than three episodes of severe sunburn during childhood, and the use of artificial UV light tanning booths. He says it remains a question whether to tan or not. It was earlier believed that the main carcinogenic rays were UVB and that UVA merely induced a tan. The increase in UVA exposure could have severe consequences.

Prof. Sinclair says the UV light used in artificial tanning booths consists mainly of pure UVA which are highly dangerous rays. It has been estimated that six per cent of all melanoma deaths in the UK can be directly attributed to the use of artificial tanning lights. The use of an artificial tanning booth will double the melanoma risk of a person. “UVA is solely responsible for solar skin aging and it is ironical that tanning addicts, who want to look beautiful, are inflicting accelerated ageing in the process,” he says.

On the use of sunscreens he says it can prevent painful sunburn, but UVA-induced damage continues unnoticed. UVB blockers decrease vitamin D synthesis, which is a particular problem in the elderly. It also prevents the sunburn warning and therefore increases the UVA dosage that an individual receives. It creates a false sense of security which is the biggest problem associated with sunscreens.

Evidence obtained from the state of Queensland in Australia, where the heaviest and longest use of sunscreens occurred, boasted the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. A huge study in Norway has shown a 350% increase in melanoma for men and 440% for women. This paralleled the increase in the use of UVB blocking sunscreens while there was no change in the ozone layer. It did however, occur during that time when tanning became fashionable in Norway and there was an increase especially in artificial tanning.

Prof. Sinclair says: “We believe that sunscreen use does not directly lead to melanoma, but UVA exposure does. The Melanoma Epidemic is a reality. Sunscreen preparations are not the magical answer in the fight against melanoma and the irresponsible use of these preparations can worsen the problem.”

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za
7 December 2009

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