Death by Food

adminBan Junk Food in Schools

Killing byte by byte: what are we doing to keep junk food away from our children ?

What if I told you that many parents in India are in cohorts with school authorities, to poison their children slowly, byte by byte? No doubt, you would be horrified and would want immediate action against these ‘abusive ‘parents and schools.

What then,  If I told you that very likely you are one of those parents.  If you take a look at your child’s tiffin box or canteen food, it’s likely to be filled with unhealthy noodles, oily burgers and chips along with unhealthy buttery sandwiches. Rising prosperity in the last fifteen years has also meant that we Indians have also acquired the habit of eating more junk food . Junk food is quick , easy and addictive. After taking a hit of junk food, very quickly our children are ready for more. And like all addictions, it requires larger and more frequent amounts to maintain the habit.

In just 15 years the ubiquitous and attractive line up of junk food in our markets, in our homes and in our schools has led to a catastrophic upheaval in the lifestyle of children, who are falling prey to lifestyle diseases . The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) shows a large-scale obesity crisis, 20 percent of school going children are now overweight.

I wonder how many children today will enter college with some basic cooking skills, the availability of junk food has led to increased and very quick eating of food from a carton, rather than something you take time to cook and savour.

Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef, recommends that every child should leave school knowing at least 10 basic recipes as part of a life skills empowerment for children( Click here for his amazing talk on the obesity epidemic on TED )  In an experiment with young school children Oliver demonstrated that many school children could not recognise basic vegetables, accustomed as they are to food from a box.

It is crucial to work with schools so that children do not have easy access to unhealthy food and drinks. The Uday Foundation for Congenital Defects and Rare Blood Groups, has filed a petition in Delhi High Court, to ban all junk food and carbonated drinks from schools. This is a crucial initiative as nothing less than a policy change will force a real transformation in our school food landscape.

This will not be an easy fight. A movement to ban junk food lines itself up against some pretty formidable opponents. If you saw the recent ads released by a food giant it shows young teens and pre-teens as customers, with an attractive price point the USP. This juxtaposition of very young consumers with making eating out a cool thing to do coupled with a pocket friendly’ happy meal’ is tailor made to entice young children to gorge on junk food. They show very young children already making the decision to eat junk food. Children are already being bombarded by these messages, so after seeing such an advertisement they step into a school environment where a local burger version is easily available with fizzy drinks to wash it down, the child really does not have any weapons to resist the junk food.

In order to equip our children with a healthy future, junk food and carbonated drinks must be removed from the school. This is not an easy thing to do; there are huge challenges to this. Parents will come under time and resource pressure to provide healthy food at home and work with the school authorities to ban junk food. Admittedly it’s simplistic to just remove junk food ASAP without replacing it with workable options. But the option is having entire generations grow up on fat and sugary food which is as addictive over a period of time as smoking or drinking.

If you have any doubts , let’s look at the latest diabetes figures for India. In 2010, India crossed the 50 million mark for the number of diabetic patients. There are also more diabetic patients in the urban areas than in the rural areas. One of the leading causes of Diabetes is unhealthy food habits and rampant obesity. The link is clear.

Rujuta Diwakar , the dietician to Bollywood stars makes an important point in her book , “ Don’t Lose your Mind, lose your weight,” that one of our most intimate relationships in life is with our stomach and we treat our stomach very badly.

It is time to reclaim our relationship with our stomach and food through the haze of a junk food–filled landscape. And we have to start by saving our children from this modern day enemy.

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About the Author

Paarul Chand, is the founder of Bright Lite Communications — a media advocacy firm in Gurgaon, India, with special focus on development issues. A film maker and writer, Paarul has worked as a television journalist for shows on CNBC India, BBC World, Economic Times Television and Asia Business News-Dow Jones.

She can be contacted at [email protected].