A complete ban on the sale of potato wafers, soft drinks and other junk foods in school canteens and within 50 metres of school campus and also their advertisement has been proposed by the food regulator FSSAI with a view to encouraging children to consume only safe and wholesome food.
The proposed ban on sale, as well as advertisements for junk foods, are contained in FSSAI's draft regulation titled 'Food Safety and Standards (Safe Food and healthy diets for School Children) Regulations, 2019'.
The Food and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has sought comments from stakeholders within 30 days on the draft rules.
“Foods which are referred to as foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) cannot be sold to school children in school canteens or mess premises or hostel kitchens or within 50 metres of the school campus,” FSSAI said.
The food business operators (FBOs) manufacturing HFSS food products would be barred from advertising such foods in school premises or within 50 metres of the school campus, it added.
Junk food is used to describe food and drinks low in nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals and fibre) and high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugar and/or added salt.
Regular consumption of junk food has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and some cancers.
In June this year, FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal had announced that the regulator has proposed banning advertisements of unhealthy food in and around schools.
The school authority itself or food business operators (FBOs) contracted by it and FBOs contracted by Department of School Education for operation of the mid-day meal scheme will have to "obtain a registration or license" as applicable and comply with the requirements of sanitary and hygienic practices specified under the food safety law.
The FSSAI has proposed that school authorities will have to adopt a comprehensive programme for promoting safe food and healthy diets among school children. The school campus should be converted into 'Eat Right School' focusing on safe and healthy food, local and seasonal food and no food waste as per the specified benchmarks.
"Encourage school authorities to promote the consumption of a safe and balanced diet in the school as per the guidelines issued by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN)," the draft regulation said.
The school authorities would have to ensure that FBOs supplying prepared meals in the premises are on the basis of general guidance provided in the regulation and as per the direction issued by the Food Authority or the Commissioners of Food safety.
Nutritionists and dietitians must be engaged by the school administration to assist in the preparation of the menu for the children, periodically.
“FBOs to support healthy eating in schools and not market, sell, or give away low- nutrition foods anywhere on the school campus, including through logos, brand names, posters, textbook covers, etc,” the draft said.
It also prescribes regular inspection of premises to ensure that safe, healthy and hygienic food is served to students.
The FSSAI proposes the creation of a sub-committee by the State Level Advisory Committee to monitor the implementation of these regulations and to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food to school children.
"A healthy food makes our kids feel better, grow better and learn better and right eating habits can be ingrained in the children from a young age. At the heart of these regulations is a fundamental idea to make it clear what is healthy for children and what is not," the regulator said.
These regulations, after consideration of stakeholder comments, will be finalised for implementation.
Meanwhile, the FSSAI said it will direct State Food Authorities or Department of School Education to frame healthy diets for school children in accordance with the general guidance given in this regulation.