Over 10 days after the director general secondary education (DGSE) directed the district education officers (DEOs), secondary and elementary, Punjab, not to allow junk food in government schools, the instructions seem to have been disregarded.
The directions that came through the deputy state project director, Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Punjab, on August 1 stated that no tuck shop or canteen should be allowed to serve junk food near or on the government school premises. The students of Classes 1 to 8 should be guided to only take the mid-day meals at the schools, while those in Classes 9 to 12 should bring food from home, it stated.
The district health officer was also directed to check the quality of food being served in school canteens and at nearby shops.
But when an HT team visited Shaheed Sukhdev Thapar Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Bharat Nagar, the canteen was found serving pizza, hot dogs, puff pastries, bread toast, samosa, cholle kulche, soft drinks, chips, etc.
Canteen's owner Om Parkash said, "We are not serving junk food to students. So I am following the directions." When asked what he termed junk food, Parkash replied that noodles and manchurian was junk food.
When contacted, school principal Kamaljit Kaur said, "We have directed the canteen owner not to sell junk food to students. Students have shown a lot of liking for cholle kulche, so we serve that. We are also planning to have a diet menu in which fruits, biscuits and healthy drinks would be served to students. I am aware of the DGSE's directions, but it is not clear what junk food is."
At Government Model Senior Secondary School, Punjab Agricultural University, puff pastries and chips were being served to students at the canteen.
Canteen owner Ajay Kumar said, "I am not selling junk food in the school. Besides, milk and lassi is available for students."
Talking to Hindustan Times, Avtar Singh, deputy state project director, SSA, Punjab, said, "It has been observed that junk food, such as pizza, burger, puff pastries, samosa, is being sold outside government schools which affects students health. Therefore, as per DGSE GK Singh's directions, I instructed schools to curb sale of junk food."
"There is a need to educate students about good eating habits and balanced diet. The schools must conduct seminars and discussions to make the students aware about healthy food," he added.
On being told that instructions were not being followed, he replied that it was the DEOs responsibility to ensure that the directions were being adhered to.
Deepti, dietitian at Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), said, "Junk food should be banned in all schools as it is not good for health. The schools must direct the students to bring nutritious food from home. Junk food is high in sodium which can contribute to high blood pressure and hypertension."
Giving details on junk food, she said high calorie food that had low nutritional value or the food which had high fat, sodium and sugar content was considered junk food.
Junk food is high in sodium which can contribute to high blood pressure and hypertension.
It also increases risk for weight gain, obesity and development of type 2 diabetes.
Raises cholesterol levels which further increases risk of heart diseases.
(As told by Deepti, dietitian at CMCH)