Junk Food the Cause of Obesity in Children & the right to safe health

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Published: 20th July 2012
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Obesity is one of the most visible problems that have hit India in the recent decades. Obesity as a health problem occurs primarily due to the urban lifestyle that has come in vogue even in the rural areas. Unhealthy eating habits, sedentary way of living and lack of physical exercises have contributed to the increasing cases of obesity. Children with obesity, suffer from some of the diseases, that earlier used to affect only adults, like juvenile diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, etc. According to professionals the life span of an obese is shorten a great deal. So children and healthy eating habit must be balance; right amount of carbohydrate, with protein along with vitamins and minerals.

Obesity in children is a common household problem these days. It is found that obesity is more prevalent among the Delhi kids as compared to children of other states. The children in the NCR region are more prone to obesity nowadays. Obesity is a life style problem which the upcoming urban society is facing and it seems that the Capital city is at the highest risk. It is also observed that frequency of this fact is more in the private schools than in the Government schools. It was found that 32.6 % obese children were in the private school as compared to 9.2 % children in Government school.

Other states of India also facing this growing problem which is slowly damaging our society. Mumbai closely follow Delhi in this respect with 30.4 % obese children in private schools and 7.9% obese children in Government school. The main reason behind such a problem is imbalance in diet. Obesity is a lifestyle problem which has to be controlled and which can be controlled only through proper diet and exercise.

Growing children needs good diet that must be taken in its right proportion. What constitutes right portion or balance diet are food consisting of different classes of food, taken in its right proportion.

Children and Junk Food

Children find themselves amidst a complex society that is undergoing breathtaking changes. Healthy nutritious foods have been replaced by the new food mantra - JUNK FOOD!

Junk food comprises of anything that is quick, tasty, convenient and fashionable. It seems to have engulfed every age; every race and the newest entrants are children. Wafers, colas, pizzas and burgers are suddenly the most important thing. Children suddenly seem to have stepped into a world of fast foods and vending machines, totally unaware of the havoc they are creating for themselves.

The years between 6 – 12 are a time of steady growth; good nutrition is a high priority. Children must know that what they eat affects how they grow, feel and behave. Changes in our society have intensified the need for food skills, to the extent that they need to become a part of the child's basic education for good health and survival. Most people have forgotten that the primary reason for eating is nourishment. In the not so distant past, food was treated with reverence because of its life sustaining quality.

Junk foods are often eaten instead of regular food, an essential Indian diet that consists of wholesome chapattis and vegetables or snacks like upmas and idlis. Not surprisingly eating junk food leads to a sense of starvation both physically and mentally, as the feeling of satiation and contentment that comes after a wholesome meal is absent.

Junk Food being available in School Canteens:

Children spend at least one third of the day in school and during this time, they eat at least one meal in the school canteen. This is especially so in most urban areas where both parents work and are unable to find the time to pack lunches for their children. Food is a vital growth and health factor for the growing child. It must not only be nutritious, but also healthy. This means we must ensure that meals served in schools are nutritious and healthy. The eating habits of students are influenced by the food available in the school environment. Consuming nutritious food and adopting a healthy lifestyle will enable students to grow and develop to their optimum potential, leading to improved educational performance.

Junk food addiction among city's children is gaining alarming proportions, a fact corroborated by a random survey across city schools. Worst of all, the school authorities, instead of helping the children come out of the addiction, are further compounding it by making various kinds of fast foods available to them through school canteens and cafeterias. Schools should allow children to eat healthily and get enough exercise, but many have sold off their playing fields, installed junk food vending machines, and failed to provide healthy school meals. If we're going to prevent a major public health crisis we need a joined up approach. Schools and local authorities have a huge responsibility but they need enough funding to be able to provide safe playing areas and healthy food. While in school, it is the responsibility of the authorities to take care of the students' health, it is funny and also weird that our schools do not really practice what they preach. On one hand, they teach their students to keep away from junk food, while on the other, they lure the unsuspecting children to eat unhealthy, non-nutritious, good-for-nothing junk in their school canteens. These high-fat, high-sugar or high-calorie competitive food is also sold outside the school campuses across the city by small-time vendors with no policy to keep a check on them.

While some of the school canteens are run by the school committees, many are run by school management and others are tendered out to private companies or individuals. All these canteens sell things which are on demand so that they can get maximum return, especially those who are tendered out to be operated by private individuals.

Legal Implications

There is a right to food for every child in India. As the children nowadays are under the influence of junk food they are not aware that they have a right to eat healthy food. The Indian Constitution does not explicitly mention the right to healthy food as a fundamental right; it is implicitly enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution as the “fundamental right to life of every citizen”. Article 47 of the Constitution (in the Directive Principles of State Policy) includes that the state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the improvement of public health.

The food served to the children by the school authorities at the canteens is usually unhealthy and non- nutritious which is turning them prone towards illness in future. Children are innocent and therefore it is the responsibility of the school authorities to provide them with nutritious and healthy food. The food cooked at the school canteens are generally non hygienic and thus could further effect the health of children. According to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the food articles sold to customers should be pure and wholesome and the food sold should be of good standard.

In an effort to encourage healthier eating habits in children, an NGO has filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court of Delhi to ban the sale of junk food in schools across the country. The petition demands the Delhi Government and the health ministry to formulate a comprehensive canteen policy so that only healthy and hygienic food is available in the schools. It has also asked for banning the sale of junk food within 100 yards of the school campus.

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