Junk food out, healthy food in
A large number of school canteens are not complying with the existing regulations prompting health authorities to draft stricter laws that will ensure that only healthy foodstuff is made available to children in schools.
The federal law currently awaiting cabinet approval aims at reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy eating habits among children. Once rolled out, all public and private schools will have to follow unified canteen and food safety guidelines across the country.
Junk food will be out and only healthy food recommended under the food pyramid will be available. Tiffin boxes brought from home will be monitored so that parents also follow the guidelines and pack healthy lunches. We are currently updating the canteen guidelines, said Dr Mariam Matroushi, Director of Health Legislations Department at the Ministry of Health.
“We are struggling to provide nutritious food to children in school canteens but contrary to what we preach, some schools are not strictly following the guidelines,” said Dr Mariam.
She said at least 40 per cent of government schools were not following the regulations. “Schools will be committed once the legislation is approved,” she added. The Ministry of Education will be responsible for taking any stringent action against schools for not complying with the law.
“We will not discourage food brought from home for children with underlying conditions such as diabetes,” explained Dr Olaa Amira, Acting Head of the School Health Department at the ministry.
“A number of food types have been removed/added as we revise the existing guidelines,” she added.
The existing canteen guidelines implemented in schools either differ from emirate to emirate or are being taken for granted, said the officials. The guidelines will be a comprehensive system targeting school canteens, food companies, food handlers, students, teachers and parents.
Issues such as food allergies and the quality and quantity of meals being given in schools will be addressed in the guidelines. “We do not want to provide meals to students ourselves but want to educate parents on how to prepare healthy lunchboxes,” she added. A 2010 national school health survey showed that unhealthy eating habit is the main reason for obesity among 40 per cent of school students in the country. Dubai revised the school canteen guidelines recently but they are yet to be implemented wholly.
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