"We welcome the Delhi High Court order in the junk food case, in which it has directed strict implementation of the guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to school children in India," said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), responding to the judgement which came on March 16.
"We would have liked a complete ban on the sale of junk food in schools, but what the Court has ordered is also very significant: restriction is an important step in recognition of the fact that this kind of food is bad for children, and must not be allowed in schools," Narain added.The Court order has come in a public interest litigation of 2010 on the availability of junk foods to school children. In its order, the Court has directed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to implement the 'Guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to school children in India'. These guidelines were developed by a committee constituted by the FSSAI as directed by the Court.
The guidelines provide a scientific background on how consumption of junk foods high in fat, salt and sugar is linked with growing non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension among children. Some of the key principles behind these guidelines are 'benefits of balanced, fresh and traditional food cannot be replaced, 'schools are not the right places for promoting foods high in fat, salt and sugar' and 'children are not the best judge of their food choices'.
The Court has directed that the guidelines be given a form of regulations or directions as per the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 within a period of three months to enforce their implementation across the country.
Narain said: "The guidelines are scientific, comprehensive and well establish the harmful effects of junk foods. The essence throughout the document is to not allow the availability of such foods in schools. If well implemented maintaining the spirit of it, the guidelines will help avoid the looming health crisis in this country".
She added: "The Court has emphasised on time-bound enforcement across the country and has put immense faith in the FSSAI. It could prove to be a milestone development towards addressing the growing burden of obesity, diabetes and heart disease -- among other non-communicable diseases -- in the Indian context."
For schools in Delhi, the Court has asked the Administrator, Delhi to consider issuing directions under Rule 43 of the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973 to follow the guidelines and ensure their compliance. The Court has suggested not waiting for regulations or directions from the food authority and taking necessary action by the end of April 2015.
For schools outside Delhi and those affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the Court has directed CBSE to consider this issue, take a decision on it and if possible see if it can include abidance with the guidelines or similar directions as a condition for affiliation or continued affiliations of the schools with CBSE.
What do the guidelines recommend?
· Most common junk foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar such as chips, fried foods, sugar sweetened carbonated beverages, sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries and confectionery items should be restricted in schools and 50 meters nearby.
· Advertisement and promotion of such foods targeted at children is to be regulated through a framework that includes all types of media, celebrity endorsements and promotional activities.
· A canteen policy should be implemented based on color coding. Green category foods -- the healthy food options -- should constitute about 80 per cent of available foods. Red category of select most common junk foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar should not be sold or served in schools. Suggested, healthy menu options should include fruit salad, fruits, paneer / vegetable cutlets, khandvi, poha, uthapam, upma, idlis and kathi rolls, low fat milk shakes with seasonal fruits and no added sugar, fresh fruit juice and smoothies with fruits, fresh lime soda, badam milk, lassi etc.
· The FSSAI should fix limits of unhealthy ingredients such as transfats to 5 per cent at the earliest.
· Schools should promote nutrition education and awareness for children. A well-structured curriculum on balanced diet and its health impacts should be introduced.
· Labeling regulations must be strengthened by the FSSAI to enable complete and transparent information on the amount of fat, salt and sugar with reference to recommended daily allowed limits.