In a commendable move, the 17,000 CBSE- affiliated schools, across the country, will now ban junk food in tiffin boxes of children, in 200 metres around the schools and also in their canteens.

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 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 10 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.

The following recommendations have been made in the guidelines, over and above, just consuming junk food:
  • Providing information on-quality nutrition, selection and preparation of healthy food and integrating physical activities during the school time
  • Teaching children about the importance of embracing a healthy active life style and incorporating healthy eating habits
  • Creating a set of activities to involve children, teachers and parents to develop healthy eating behaviour 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
  • Making parents aware about obesity, HFSS foods and importance of physical activity so that they: -- Give children toys/sports equipment that encourage physical activity like balls, skipping ropes, bicycles etc.
  • Encourage children to join a sports team or try a new physical activity.
  • Facilitate a safe walk to and from school
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walk around the home after a meal
  • Limit watching television
Also recommended:
  • 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 organising interactions between school students and neighbourhood communities through display of posters on physical activity at public places (bus shelters or market area). Resident Welfare Associations of the neighbourhood community may also be involved in this drive.
  • 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, individualised counselling should be provided to each student and parents during parent teacher meeting. Th e schools may hire nutritionists and advocate regular physical activities such as yoga along with other life style modifications.
  • Inspection of lunch boxes to rule out consumption of unhealthy foods may be done by the schools.

    "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 aft er 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 form of their favourite characters, motivating them to buy foods. Instead of marketing HFSS foods, it should be discouraged just like tobacco,” adds Chandra.

    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.

Develop 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.

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 with 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, 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 micro nutrients, 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 figurative 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).