Students in city schools will not be able to indulge in deep-fried vada pavs or cheesy burgers anymore. In a first, the Maharashtra government on Monday imposed an official ban over selling and serving foods high in fats, sugar and salt (HFSS) in school canteens. Fried foods, pizzas, burgers, carbonated drinks and all kinds of sweets, which have been freely available in schools so far, will now be prohibited. But this does not stop children from carrying junk food in their lunch boxes.
Although the Delhi high court and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had curbed junk food in schools in 2015 and 2016, no such regulations or guidelines were in place in Maharashtra until now.
But health concerns and poor eating habits of students prompted the state school education department to come up with the ban, which was recommended by a working group formed in 2015, under the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad. This group was formed on the suggestion of the ministry of women and child development.
According to a government resolution (GR) issued by the department on Monday, junk food is any eatables containing high amounts of fat, salt and sugar, lacking nutrition, fibre, or causing obesity, cardiovascular disorders, or tooth decay. “Such foods lack life-enhancing substances and nutrition, lead to obesity and other illnesses among children and affects their academic abilities,” read the GR.
Responsibility that such products are not available in their premises will be on the school management and principal, states the GR. But schools said lunch boxes, too, need to be regulated. “Even if we stick to the ban, parents will send unhealthy food items in the dabba,” said Anil Bornare, teacher, Swami Muktananda School, Chembur.
The list of banned foods includes fast food such as noodles, burgers along with deep-fried chips, pani puri, locally prepared ice gola, carbonated and non-carbonated cold drinks. All types of sweets and chocolates including rasgulla, gulab jamun, kala kand and pedha have also been restricted.
Additionally, schools will have to create awareness about healthy food stuffs that can be consumed by the children and their benefits. Schools have been asked to add items such as whole grain, home-made, rotis, parathas, rice, dal, chickpeas, kidney beans, milk and sugar-free dairy products.
Although HFSS food pose myriad health risks for children, schools store it because they are cheap, said nutritionists. “When schools plan their menus, vendors push for foods containing hydrogenated fats or transfats because they are cheaper and reduce costs,” said Chandni Kagalwalla, nutrition counsellor. Adding that consumption of junk food causes hyperactivity and other lifestyle diseases, Kagalwalla said, “It is important to educate kids about what they are eating, especially about hidden substances which can be detrimental to their growth and development.”