Doctors, civil society want guidelines on school canteens

Expert panel to send recommendations to the government soon


Sonal Matharu | January 28, 2011

Doctors and the civil society are committed to the cause of inculcating good eating habits among school children to check the growing rate of obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle related diseases in children. To address the same, experts got together here on Friday to pen down recommendations, which will be submitted to the state and the central government, to have regulation over the school canteens and the foods available there.

The recommendations are largely based on a Delhi-specific survey, called the canteen eating habits of school children, conducted by the Heal foundation and Batra hospital in Delhi and NCR region where students from 20 schools between fourth standard and 12th standard were interviewed about their canteen eating habits.

The findings of the survey show that 84 percent of children eat canteen food along with home cooked food. However, 75.5 percent children said that they would prefer healthy food such as fruit juices, whole wheat sandwiches and noodles in the canteen if available.

“The schools appoint caterers and they only keep foods that sell fast and give them good money. Children spend more than eight hours in schools where they get influenced the most. We need a simple regulation which pushes for availability of healthy food in the school canteens,” said Swadeep Srivastava, principal consultant, Heal foundation.

A petition was filed in the high court in December, 2010, by Uday foundation, a NGO, asking for a ban on junk food in schools. Its founder Rahul Verma informed that the court has shown good response and has appointed senior advocate Krishna Kant Kaul to provide guidance on the matter.

“We have demanded for a complete ban on junk food and aerated drinks in schools and around the school premises. Also, there should be a comprehensive school canteen guideline which should tell the caterers and school authorities what not to have in the canteens,” said Verma.

However, nutrition experts believe that a total ban on selected items will not solve the problem. The children and parents should be informed and sensitised to make smart choices from the products available.

“A ban will not work. Initiate a gradual change and involve students, teachers, parents and school trustees in forming the guidelines. Also, ‘junk food’ and ‘health food’ should be properly defined,” said Dr Anuja Agarwal, chief dietician, pediatrics department, AIIMS.

“There should be more playgrounds in school and children should be taught about the linkages between childhood malnutrition and non-communicable diseases in the classrooms where they learn the most,” said Dr GM Subba Rao, scientist, National Institute of Nutrition.

Laxman Public School’s principal Usha Ram said that when her school banned aerated drinks in its canteen and replaced it with mother dairy products some 10 years back, the students protested but now they enjoy the flavoured milk and other products available. Schools should involve parents and students to decide what they would like available in the canteens, which is also one of the proposed recommendations which will be submitted to the health ministry, the education ministry and the Delhi government.



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