EDITORIAL | Sunday, 18 November 2007

Food for thought

The ban on junk food sold at school tuck shops by the education authorities is a good move based on a common sense approach. We fully agree that the scandal of junk food served every day in school tuck shops must end. Our public health difficulties are not helped by the inundation of junk food in schools. We applaud measures, which require or recommend nutritional guidance for schools. There should be widespread support from parents, public health authorities, and school administrators for all measures, which ensure that schools offer a healthy package. Schools must stand on the side of parents who want to teach good nutrition. Schools can have an enormous effect on improving nutritional and physical education. This salutary ban will enter into force from the first of January with foods high in fat, salt or sugar being replaced by more wholesome alternatives. This change in the present culture of junk food free-for-alls, announced in parliament last week insists that all schools follow the guidelines set by the healthy eating lifestyle plan as from this coming January. Of particular importance is the enforcement of the new rules by the health school nutrition audit board, which will inspect every tuck shop at least once a year. We only hope that the enforcement will be for real, since the health of our children is at stake.
The new regulations make sense in view of the way that junk food has infiltrated into schools. The tendency has grown whereby children attending their schools in the morning skip out on breakfast at home and resort to eating the most fatty of foods during their school breaks to the detriment to their health. Parents should know that our schools are one of the largest sources of unhealthy food for their children. Just as schools do not encourage children to run round in the streets during school hours in like manner it is right that the school authorities do not allow the schools to poison children with junk food. Obesity among children is a matter for concern and Malta lags down in the European league tables. Obese children will inevitably become adults with chronic health problems. Even prior to adulthood children are suffering from high blood pressure, high diabetes and other illnesses. Giving children healthier options is now being made a requirement and not a suggestion, this augurs well for a healthier generation.
The first moves to ban junk food came from the UK where much of the credit for its removal goes to the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. In 2005 Oliver had starred in an English reality show, Jamie’s school dinners, in which he was challenged to feed school students on the a United Kingdom government subsidy. The show criticized the high-fat high- salt diet being offered to British students. As a result of this show the government banned junk food and pushed healthier options. It also introduced home economics and cookery lessons on the school curriculum, subjects that we should include in local school teaching subjects.
Another reason apart from the health of our children, for ruthlessly banning these sugary foods is that it undercuts millions of taxpayers’ investments in health. The health budget in this country is gigantic, many of the financial resources going towards the cure of many self-inflicted diseases such as cancer arising from smoking and obesity derived from the consumption of unhealthy foods. A full awareness campaign from the government is essential to avoid so many self-inflicted diseases. What better way than to start at the earliest of ages, ensuring that over a period of time the number of visits to hospital and operations undertaken are lessened?
In recent years also in keeping with European legislation a number of health regulations have found their way into our statute book, including the ban on smoking in public places. This years will be a watershed year for state legislation dealing with school nutrition. These regulations together with others where the emphasis is on leading a healthy life style are to be encouraged. Government is well advised to carry on with awareness campaigns and encouraging television programmes and radio slots on such matters, which can only help in creating a more healthy society.
It’s possible that in ten years’ time, we will look back and ask ‘can you believe that we used to sell that junk to our students’?

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