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– Abhay Saxena / Changing Tomorrow

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) has directed its affiliate schools across the country to take off junk food from their canteen menus. The Board has asked the schools to make sure that food items like chips, aerated soft drinks, instant noodles, pizzas, burgers, samosa, kachoris, and even confectionary products like chocolates and candies, etc are not available in their canteens. CBSE has further advised the schools to see that such food items are not even sold near school premises. The schools have also been asked to check students’ lunch boxes for such items; promote the consumption of nutritious food among them and regularly monitor their health.

This circular from CBSE has followed has followed a report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development addressing the consumption of High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) foods among the students. “Schools are required to ensure that there is no HFSS food available in the school canteens. In so far as possible in their capacity, schools are also urged to take the possible necessary steps to ensure non-availability of HFSS around 200 meters of the school,” the circular states.

The schools have also been advised to create awareness about healthy foods by organizing events like Nutrition Week from September 1 to 7 every year, wherein the schools should regularly record and monitor physical parameters like height, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) of all their students and provide individualized health counseling to each of them. The schools may also engage nutritionists and promote among students regular physical activities like Yoga along with other lifestyle modifications.

So far, so good. However, the bigger issue is the efficacy of a ban on such food products in school canteens. The greatest objection to HFSS food or the junk food is the harm they bring to a child’s health in long run. It is believed by the health experts that junk food only have empty calories, that is, extra calories in form of added sugars supplying some instant energy, but lacking any other nutrition. The experts observe that a small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat a lot more than is healthy. Too much of junk food replaces the well cooked nutritious food as it instantly satiates the hunger, albeit at a cost of required daily quantum of essential nutrients.

A ban on HFSS foods in school canteens is intended to prevent students from consuming them. However, this motive is marred because of junk food’s omnipresence in myriad forms and flavours. Prevent kids from consuming it at school, and they will have it somewhere else in double the amount. The whole world is promoting junk – big companies, malls, multiplexes, and celebrities that endorse them. The consumption of junk has been rooted deep inside us over the years. They taste awesome!! They are served within minutes!! They are so very convenient to have!! Potential health hazards?? May be. But heavenly flavours?? For sure!!! Banning such an addiction is very likely to backfire. It might raise the indulgence. Banning a practice that has become a lifestyle has mostly resulted in raised levels of illegal and mal practices, just like  banning liquor has done in some states.

What could be done then? Junk, when consumed heavily, is certainly injurious to health. This issue definitely needs to be addressed. Education and some adjustments in how the junk food is prepared and presented can have far better results than a strict ban. Here are some suggestive steps that can be taken in this regard:

Educate not only the children but everyone about health hazards of consuming junk heavily. Promote moderation rather than restriction.

Indicate nutritional levels on packages in a manner that is easily understood by small kids. Like, we can represent them by colourful scales or spectra clearly indicating where they stand against healthy and unhealthy levels.

Extend the menus of school canteens to include traditional, nutritive foods along with fast-food items at attractive prices and packaging. Make, what is good, look good as well. Add incentives. Just like companies offer attractive toys with burgers, etc, the nutritive food items should also carry motivators along with.

Prepare junk foods in a healthy manner replacing empty calories with more nutrition. Use low fat oils, less sugar and whole grain breads. We now have appliances that cook without or minimal oil. In parallel, make traditional, healthy food more tasteful. Add natural flavouring agents, like mint, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. The list is endless.

Promote sports, exercising and other wholesome activities like Yoga and martial arts.

Health should be made a regular subject and be taught in class through text books and practical activities. This can be a real fun and greatly beneficial.

There can be many better alternatives to an altogether ban on junk food in schools. What is needed is the will and expertise in executing them at all levels.

“Excellent decision and one long pending, complete respect for them, there is no point educating children and teaching them to grow into educated adults when you feed them junk, you feed the body with healthy food and you have a healthy mind, sugar and processed food destroys health of children, impacts growth and hormonal balance and affects their lives. I am proud of this decision.

Luke Coutinho, Nutritionist, Author 

“I think it’s a good step to educate students about nutritious food and regularly monitor health of students, we should welcome the idea and intentions.

At the same time I don’t think ban is answer to anything. Liquor is banned in some states but those states have high rate of smuggling. A few months back, someone said ban beef and then there was a ban on few movies. Maggi was banned for some months but when the ban was lifted, it made record sales. What’s the message? That ban doesn’t affect eating habits.

Ban only promotes wrong practices. If liquor is banned, there’s smuggling and illegal business. If a film is banned, it gets downloaded from the internet. You ban books, and I get them from the illegal market… So bans only cause illegal activities.

I think the correct approach is IEC – that is information, education and communication. CBSE should educate students about healthy food habits, request brand ambassadors not to endorse junk food.” – Rajeev Namjoshi, Businessman

“ It is high time that we take a step. Obesity has been catching up with India’s youth like slow poison. This step is commendable and should be stringently carried out in private as well as public schools. In today’s world a lot of nuclear families have working parents and they seldom watch their child’s eating habits. The school is the perfect place to initiate control.

However, I do think that screening tiffin boxes is going a little too far. The school’s rules should apply only under its premises. Its role is to teach children what is right and wrong, not to control or limit their choices.

Just like everybody knows smoking is injurious to health, yet people indulge in it. 

Similarly, the school’s role is to inform children and create awareness about healthy eating habits. To adhere to them or not should be the child’s individual decision.” – Khushbu Arora, Student

“The health of our children needs special care and attention. Educating them about eating healthy and right is very important. An initial strict action with educating them about the benefits of eating healthy are important. No one can be with them 24×7 or for the rest of their lives. If they can understand, learn, appreciate the benefits of healthy eating, it will be better in the long run and create a healthy, happy and a strong country.”– Tapsya Lall, Home-maker

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