The consumption of food high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) has been found to be associated with many diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, chronic inflammation and hyperinsulinemia with a risk of cardiovascular diseases in later life. These diseases and childhood obesity have been reportedly found to affect the cognitive and physical development of children adversely, causing an irreparable loss to the society.
In this context, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) constituted a Working Group which submitted its report on Addressing Consumption of Foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) and Promotion of Healthy Snacks in Schools of Tamilnadu. The report comprehensively covers the issue and provides invaluable insights on how to control the endemic problem of consumption of junk food available especially in and around schools.
Therefore, it is advised to all Chief Educational Officers to implement the recommendations of the report especially with reference to the following points:
i. Schools are required to ensure that there is no 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, etc.,) available in the school canteens premises, etc., In so far as possible in their capacity, schools are also urged to take the possible necessary steps to ensure non-availability of HFSS around 200 meters of the school.
ii. Schools need to constitute the School Canteen Management Committee having about 7 to 10 members including teacher, parent(s), student(s) and school canteen operator(s). The Committee will coordinate, implement and monitor the guidelines to make safe food available to students in the school. The following are the major functions of the School Canteen Management Committee:
Ø To decide the type of food to be prepared in the school kitchen / canteen and, as and when possible, to check the quality of raw materials and ingredients required for the same. For schools where food is not prepared and is sourced from outside, a Subcommittee will select the items of food as per the guidelines available in the report.
Ø To ensure that food available in schools meets the food safety, hygiene and sanitation requirements as per the guidelines available in the report and also as outlined by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Ø To study the gaps and advise School Principal about necessary infrastructural facilities required as per the guidelines available in the report.
Ø To design physical activity programs for students taking into account age, climatic and other environmental conditions. The Board has already advised schools that there should be at least 40-45 minutes of Physical Activities or Games period for Classes I-X every day. For Classes XI – XII schools should ensure that all the students participate in Physical Activity / Games / Mass P.T / Yoga with maximum health benefits for at least two periods per week (90-120 min / week).This time may be used to conduct physical activities as desired in the report.
Ø To be responsible for ensuring that all the recommendations given in the report of the working group are duly implemented.
Ø To avail expertise of external resources such as nutritionist, physical activity trainers, public health specialist, food safety expert, etc.
Ø To develop awareness material on Information regarding Hygienic Practices for School Canteens; Information on Fundamentals of Nutrition; Information about Promotion of Physical Activity; Group Discussion on nutrition; Quiz Program on nutrition, hygiene and physical activity; Display of pictorials(posters) on nutrition, hygiene and physical activity in schools.
Ø To make appropriate arrangement for display of contact numbers of Doctors/ Medical Officers who can be contacted for any health related emergency at various important places such as notice boards, first-aid room, labs, canteen, etc.
iii. Awareness generating events regarding nutritious food and avoidance of HFSS foods like Celebration of Nutrition Week (1-7th September) and other such occasions may be organized throughout the year by the schools.
iv. In order to promote healthier eating habits, the following additional activities may be taken up by the schools:
v Providing information on- quality nutrition, selection and preparation of healthy food and integrating physical activities during the school time
v Teaching children about the importance of embracing a healthy active lifestyle and incorporating healthy eating habits
v Creating a set of activities to involve children, teachers and parents to develop healthy eating behavior among children e.g. healthy tiffin competition, a nutritious recipe competition-cum-nutrition discussion session for parents, projects on food safety, celebrating healthy snacking day in classes, debate competitions for students in senior classes on topics related to hygiene and sanitation, advantages of healthy life style options, etc.
v Making parents aware about obesity, HFSS foods and importance of physical activity so that they:
1. Give children toys/sports equipment that encourage physical activity like balls, skipping ropes, bicycles etc.
2. Encourage children to join a sports team or try a new physical activity.
3. Facilitate a safe walk to and from school
4. Walk around the home after a meal
5. Limit viewing Television
v. Community Outreach Programme promoting physical activity may be undertaken by the schools to disseminate the messages related to health to the community members and to get their support by organizing interactions between school students and neighborhood communities through display of posters on physical activity at public places (bus shelters or market area). Resident Welfare Associations of the neighborhood community may also be involved in this drive.
vi. It is once again reiterated that schools should regularly monitor the height, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) for all the students and based on their trajectory, individualized counselling should be provided to each student and parents during Parent-Teacher Association.
vii. Inspection of lunch boxes to rule out consumption of unhealthy foods may be done by the schools.
viii. Schools should also promote nutrition education and awareness among children through tools such as posters, collage and other visual aids.
ix. Use of Co-scholastic/Co-Curricular activities periods may be extensively used to promote nutrition and healthy habits.
x. Practicals may be conducted in participatory and interactive manner. Building skills of children as part of the curriculum to read and make sense of food labels should be encouraged.