After several discussions being carried out by schools, parents, and government, finally Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the nodal agency under ministry of health and family welfare to regulate food safety standard in India has framed regulations December 2019 to clamp down on consumption of unhealthy food by school children. Food items like colas, chowmein, French fries, chips, packaged juices, burgers, pizzas, samosas, and other junk food will be banned in school cafeterias and boarding schools.
Schools Addressing to Eat Right Verdict
Taking forward its “Eat Right” campaign, the Centre has banned sale of pre-packaged foods which “are referred to as foods high in fat, salt and sugar” to school children in “school canteens/ mess premises/ hostel kitchens or within 50 meters of the school campus”, according to new guidelines.
Another school principal mentioned that the ban at school is not only something that will help but the implementation should start at home. In their school, sale of such items is not allowed, but during an inspection, they found that parents continue to send pasta and Maggi in lunchboxes. The school even warned them about the ill-effects of such foods, and a fresh guideline will be issued to them soon.
“Our school does not have a canteen, so I don’t have to worry much. When the children leave school, the teachers are posted outside till they get into their buses,” said Jyoti Arora, principal, Mount Abu Public School, Rohini. “We are hosting a national-level chess championship, and HFSS food is banned at the venue,” she added.
Some of the schools have already started preparing fresh menus and instructions for parents. The principal of a popular school in South Delhi claimed that they tried to impose ban on such unhealthy food items but children and parents keep on coming with requests. If the ban is imposed, it will easier for school to convince parents.
Few schools have already taken steps to keep unhealthy options off the menu. “In our canteen, we do not allow maida momos. They are replaced with wheat momos,” the principal of The Indian School said. White bread is not allowed in their school and they also have designated dates for different food items and that helps, added the principal.
Not only this but food business operators would not be allowed to advertise junk food, put banners at sports meet or distribute free samples. Vending machines inside schools and within 50 metres of school campuses are also not allowed.
Various guidelines have been made in the past to check the consumption of food items, which are of little or no nutritional value, by children. But they continue to be available at school cafeterias.
This ban will also now no longer allow schools to take sponsorships for events from food business operators, a move seen curbing incidents of food business operators using their logos on banners at field meets such as sports day meet or as wallpapers on school computers and in school canteens.
At the state level, members of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) have been conducting inspection of the schools to check sale of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt’ (HFSS) content. The regulation defines HFSS as “deep-fried foods, for example, French fries, fried chips, samosa, chole bhature, gulab jamun, sugar-sweetened carbonated or non-carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat foods, noodles, pizzas, burgers, confectionary items, sugar and sugar-based products.”
It prohibits food manufacturers and food vendors from handing out free samples of low-nutrition food to children at sporting and field events. Such entities are also forbidden from using their logos on vending machines, books, school supplies, textbook covers, school property like scoreboards and signs.The rule, however, also bans sale of junk food within 50 metres from the schools.
The government has also prepared few guidelines regarding the menu for school cafeteria and daycare centers. The move to frame these rules follows a nudge from the courts and studies by not-for-profit organizations.
Schedule I of the regulation suggests essential food groups like milk, eggs, chicken, paneer, fish, low-fat or toned milk, and fortified cereals. It says that white breads, packaged soups and wraps should be avoided.
In 2015, while hearing a case by Uday Foundation for Congenital Defects and Rare Blood Groups, the Delhi High Court had directed FSSAI to enforce its guidelines to restrict the availability of HFSS in schools and nearby areas. Though FSSAI had come out with guidelines, these were not mandatory in nature.
In 2016, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) carried out an online survey to understand the food habits of school children in urban areas. From 300 schools across the country, over 13,200 children in the age group of 9 to 17 years participated in the survey. The results were shocking as it showed that 93% of children ate packaged food, 68% consumed packaged sugar-sweetened beverages more than once a week, while 53% consumed these products at least once a day. It also revealed that a large percentage of children, who consumed packaged food more than twice a week, had them at school or bought the products from school canteens or stores in the vicinity. This also revealed that most of the students’ favourite food items were part of the HFSS list. They were easily available in the school canteens and the shops located nearby.
Recently, DCPCR had received a series of complaints, and inspections revealed that many schools were providing foods and drinks high on fat, salt and sugar(HFSS) content. Notices were sent to 10 schools earlier this week, and they have been asked to reply by November 20,” added DCPCR member Ranjana Prasad. In December 2018, another 10 reputed private schools were served notices in connection with the sale of junk food.
With the proposed ban coming into effect from December, we can expect ‘healthy change’ at city’s schools.