CBSE lists detailed measures to limit junk food in schools
Almost ten years after the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) first acknowledged the need for limiting junk food in schools, the Board issued a circular last week with detailed measures to curb their availability in school canteens and replace them with healthy alternatives. The guidelines will be applicable to more than 17,000 CBSE-affiliated schools.
The circular is based on recommendations by a report titled “Addressing Consumption of Foods High in Fat, Salt, and Sugar (HFSS) and Promotion of Healthy Snacks in Schools of India”, of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It asks all CBSE-affiliated schools to ensure that HFSS foods—such as chips, fried foods, carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries and confectionery items, chocolates, candies, samosas, bread pakora—are not available in school canteens and around 200 metres of schools.
“This is an important move by the government as what kids eat at home is in our control unlike what they eat outside. There needs to be some demarcation on what to do and not to do. Just by telling children not to have unhealthy food cannot help curb the situation. Practically banning it and keeping a check on tiffins will put a control by default on everyone,” says Manjari Chandra, doctor and consultant nutritionist at Max Healthcare, New Delhi.
A school canteen management committee of seven to ten members, comprising of a teacher, parent(s), student(s), and school canteen operator(s) needs to be set up in schools to decide the type of food to be prepared in canteens, quality of ingredients and raw materials used in them. Promotion of physical activity amongst school children will also be a focus area for the committee. Awareness in schools through the celebration of events like nutrition week, healthy snacking day, healthy tiffin competition and nutritious recipe competition-cum-nutrition discussion session for parents have also been recommended.
“This is a good initiative by CBSE as fast food creates problems in the long run due to which it should be kept out of children’s reach. We welcome the step wholeheartedly and will implement it successfully,” says Anju Mehrotra, Principal at Kalka Public School, Alaknanda, New Delhi. Parents and caregivers should be sensitised about obesity, HFSS foods and physical activity so that they can encourage children to play sports, use skipping ropes, bicycles, and stairs instead of elevators, take walks after meals and limit TV viewing. Regular monitoring of body mass index (BMI), height and weight of children under an expert’s consultation has also been recommended.
“Fast food restaurants and manufacturers target children by offering free toys, bags, tattoos in the form of their favourite characters, motivating them to buy foods. Instead of marketing HFSS foods, it should be discouraged just like tobacco,” adds Chandra.
CBSE had issued six circulars between 2006 and 2008 to ensure healthy habits in school children, but they were not as comprehensive as the one issued last week. While there is no clarity on the steps the Board will take in case of non-compliance, the circular is broadly aligned with the Delhi High Court judgment of February 2015.
While CBSE has adopted the school-specific recommendations made by the court, it is now time for other ministries and departments, such as Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to implement the recommendations made to them.
Recommendations for Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB)
- MIB controls media advertising and publicity control in India. Guidelines for the food quality of products advertised in Indian media should be urgently formulated.
- Strict regulatory measures for advertisement and promotion of prepackaged foods targeted at children should be developed. It should be ensured that false claims are not broadcast.
- Airing of HFSS food advertisements should be restricted during prime time on TV and radio (from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm on weekdays and from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm on weekends and holidays).
- Advertising and marketing of communication of HFSS foods should be dealt in a manner similar to that of tobacco and alcohol.
- Telecasting doctors- and celebrity-endorsed HFSS food advertisements should be banned.
Labelling recommendations to FSSAI
- Nutrition facts labelling should include declaration of total fat, trans fat, saturated fat, sugar, carbohydrates, proteins, salt/sodium.
- Serving size, the number of serving size per pack and contribution of per serving to RDA (in percent) as per National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) should be mentioned.
- Total calorie count on basis of which RDA is calculated; sources of micronutrients, tagging the terms appropriately—such as good source, excellent and so on—should be included.
- For front-of-pack labelling, nutrition facts that provide information in a simpler, easy to understand way should be mandatory.
- Menu labelling for non-packaged food items such as burgers and pizzas should be practised on point-of-purchase labelling boards, or on paper wraps or boxes at fast food outlets. It should carry information on calories and nutrients per serving size and as a percentage of RDA by NIN.
Recommendations for Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW)
- Nutrition should be included in the school health programme and should be renamed as school health and nutrition programme.
- Cards issued under this programme should include nutrition-related aspects. Health and nutrition screening of each child should become mandatory for every school. Individualised counselling should be provided to the child during parent-teacher meetings.
- It is recommended that counselling and education on nutrition be included under programmes like Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram, school health programmes, Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH).