Promoting a healthier food environment in European Schools
Marking one year since the European soft drink industry pledged to remove added sugar soft drinks from secondary schools across the EU, UNESDA recently supported a wide-ranging Euractiv debate exploring how to help young people enjoy healthy diets and lifestyles. The discussion brought together experts from the European Commission, academia and industry associations to explore meaningful actions to help create a healthy environment both inside schools and in the family environment.
During the event, Yannis Manios, Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics at Athens Harokopio University’s Department, highlighted the two sides to the childhood obesity challenge: both decreasing calorie intake and encouraging more active lifestyles. The professor highlighted that a preference amongst children towards sweet, high-energy foods is natural and must be expected, and believes best practice actions for reducing calorie intake lie in good modeling - as “children tend to observe and copy behaviors from the people they admire” - and ensuring healthier food choices are tasty and appealing. For example, adding olive oil to broccoli, making it more energy-dense and more likely for a child to eat it.
The room agreed with his perspective that tackling the childhood obesity problem is not about “fixing children” but rather addressing the environment in which they live, learn and play. As such, the European Commission’s Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Navracsics, Patricia Reilly, and Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Andriukaitis, Arunas Vinciunas, highlighted numerous initiatives aimed at increasing activity across all levels of European society and specifically the progress being made through the EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity.
The need to support parents and
Director General of UNESDA, Sigrid Ligné, emphasized the importance of promoting a healthy balanced diet and boosting incentives for interventions that are shown to work, citing results from the McKinsey Global Institute Obesity report showing that reformulation and smaller portions are the two most effective obesity interventions. The industry’s efforts to reduce sugar through reformulations, support portion