RECENT data suggests that almost 20 percent of elementary school children nationwide are obese. Research shows that on any given day, 16 million children receive unhealthy snacks or beverages at school, amounting to 400 billion calories of low-nutrient, or "junk" food, sold in public schools annually.
When children are taught in the classroom about good nutrition and the value of choosing healthy food, they are surrounded by vending machines, snack bars, school stores and sales offering low nutrient density options. The children thus receive the message that 'good nutrition is merely an academic exercise.' Health and children's advocates believe that this is sending kids confusing signals about which food to chose.
The known 'competitive food laws' regulate the foods that can be sold at schools outside the school meal programs in an attempt to reduce childhood obesity. But implementation of the law is very weak. It just speaks of healthy foods, but does not set any standard of nutrition.
Government efforts should include "comprehensive action" involving parents and schools. As part of the program, the government should also promote healthy foods such as milk, juice and fruits in academic premises.
Let the kids vote on healthy snacks they think taste the best. A 'food fair' would motivate parents and students get involved. The fair could be set up like a 'science fair' where students show the benefits of healthy foods vs. junk foods; at kiosks the children build to display their researched projects, the school can locate and distribute coupons for healthy snacks for parent purchase.
The laws were aimed at restricting the food and drinks sold in public school vending machines and school stores, outside of mealtime. Personal responsibility for maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is also important.
We want a society that does not try to influence kids into brand faithfulness, but one that encourages, supports and creates a space for our next generation to be the most creative, critical thinking and healthy people they can be.
The writer is from the Department of Food and Nutrition, University of Dhaka.