Punjab Child Rights Commission has banned serving junk food in the state’s schools and formed committees to monitor the prohibition.
The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights had asked all states to implement this ban, said Punjab commission chairman Sukesh Kalia. “Considering how unhygienic junk food has spoiled the schoolchildren’s health, a decision was taken to ban it,” he said. The national commission had also asked all states to encourage students to take nutritious diet and do physical activity.
“We have written to the Punjab School Education Board secretary and director public instructions (both primary and secondary) to implement the ban,” said Kalia. The Punjab commission had written to food safety commissioner Hussan Lal for a safety inspector and a technical expert to help it conduct random checks.
The national commission guidelines are based on rising obesity among urban children. Commission says a quarter of these children are overweight. In Delhi schools, the Diabetes Foundation of India found 24.2% of children obese. A National Sample Survey Organisation study in May 2007 had highlighted huge increase in the intake of fats by urban Indians, including schoolchildren. The per-capita fat consumption has increased from 34 grams per cent in the year 1993-94 to 50 grams per cent in the year 2004-05.
The schools have been asked not to sign canteen contracts with firms that sell soft drinks, fast food, or any other unhealthy food. All this is banned even in official school canteens. The states are required to prepare nutrition plans for schools and these standards should reflect the students’ cultural diversity, food preferences, and special dietary needs.
Schools must post information on their websites about the nutritional content of the food served on the campus and the district administration’s policies about it. “The guidelines require school canteens to keep health drinks such as water, milk, and juices (without added sweetener), and children to be encouraged to eat vegetables, fruits, cereals, lean meat, fish, poultry products, and yoghurt,” said Kalia.
The Punjab commission chairman said both private and government schools had to give the commission an undertaking that junk food (food high in fat, salt, and sugar content) was not being served on their campuses.