The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked colleges to stop serving junk food in their canteens.
“Banning junk food in colleges will set new standards for health food and make the students live better, learn better and also reduce the obesity levels in young learners, thus preventing lifestyle diseases which have a direct link with excessive weight,” states the circular issued on Thursday evening and which is available on www.ugc.ac.in.
The UGC is a statutory body to coordinate, determine and maintain the standards of higher education. While the circulars released by UGC are not binding, affiliated universities and colleges are expected to follow the prescribed rules.
The circular even suggests ways the institutes can implement the order.
While the circular does not define ‘junk food’, circulars by other boards of education, including the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination, refer to junk food as “items that are high on calories, but low on nutrients”.
For starters, colleges have been asked to display information on markers such as body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio, etc. Orientation programmes have been recommended for staff as well as students so as to put across the point to the youth as soon as possible. Students too have been asked to form clusters among themselves and counsel each other about proper nutrition, exercise as well as other healthy habits.
Some students, however, found this circular amusing.
“In this day and age, almost everyone is aware of the perils of consuming junk food, especially after being told about all through school. We are not school kids anymore to follow such strict rules,” said Ankita Parekh, a student from Bandra’s RD National College.
“The more the restrictions, the higher the chances that we’ll do the exact opposite. If we don’t find our food in the canteen, students will opt for smaller joints outside the college which will not even be clean. At least our canteen serves clean food,” said Sachit Ramesh, a student of Mithibai College, Vile Parle.
While colleges have given a thumbs-up to the initiative, many thought banning junk food will not help much. “Creating awareness about healthy eating is something all colleges can easily adopt, and this can help students understand the problem. Unless students practice self-restraint , simply banning something will not help the cause,” said Vijay Joshi, principal of K J Somaiya College, Vidya Vihar.
What colleges will have to do
■ Implement measures to sensitise students on ill effects of junk food
■ Universities can serve as important data sources on students’ health. Information on markers like body mass index (BMI)/percentage of body weight/waist hip ratio, etc can help create awareness among students towards their health. BMI is the approximate measure of whether an individual is overweight or underweight, calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres
■ Conduct orientation programs for faculty and staff on health issues
■ Create wellness clusters under the Students Welfare Department to counsel students about proper nutrition, proper exercise and healthy habits. These wellness clusters can also provide psychological support to the students to prevent and reduce the incidence of obesity in young students
■ In January this year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) directed all affiliated schools to take junk food off their canteen menu. Schools were also asked to inspect lunch boxes of students, create awareness about nutritious food and regularly monitor students’ health. The circular was released following a report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development addressing consumption of foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) and promotion of healthy snacks in schools
■ In May 2012, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had directed all schools to ban junk food and carbonated drinks, calling them “rich in calories but deficient in vital nutrients”. The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations in May 2012 and all schools were asked to implement this ban at the earliest