Curbing childhood obesityEuropean Union member countries have ordered schools to distribute free fruits and vegetables beginning next school year. Major European countries like Britain, France and Sweden limit television commercials associated with fast food, soda and other unhealthy foods during viewing times popular with children and teenagers. The United States and Australia ban sales of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and foods in school shops and cafeterias.
Major cities across the globe are trying to curb childhood obesity. Obese children tend to be overweight when they grow up, and may suffer related illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
The World Health Organization has found that children make up 20 percent of the world’s obese population. This includes Korean children. Health authorities here reported that the rate of obesity among young people aged two to 18 years shot up from 5.8 percent in 1997 to 9.7 percent in 2005. In a survey by the Seoul Metropolitan Government last year, children who were obese accounted for 13.7 percent of the elementary, middle and high school populations.
The primary reason for the increase in childhood obesity is the growing preference for fast food and junk food among the young.
The government has finally decided to do something about it. Last week, it introduced new initiatives aimed at promoting healthier foods and lifestyles among the young. Once the regulations are implemented next month, schools must clear foods high in calories and low in nutrients from their shop shelves, which will be beneficial considering that students regularly slurp instant noodles and chomp on potato chips during breaks.
But the regulations will have a limited effect if the campaign does not get beyond the school grounds. Outside of school, young people are tempted by an endless chain of stores selling junk food. Though the government plans to provide incentives to stores located near schools that refrain from selling unhealthy snacks and will have consumer monitors supervise school areas, it remains unclear how many shopkeepers will forgo the profits and take the incentives and whether monitors can function without legal means to enforce their actions. We also need to keep an eye on school food. To lower costs, school menus frequently consist of fried and instant foods. Without changing what’s eaten at school, efforts to educate children about nutrition will be of little use.
Lastly, efforts to limit junk food ads, which have been shelved by strong opposition from the food industry, must be pushed forward.