LAHORE: Not satisfied with just banning soft drinks at schools, the Punjab Food Authority is now considering restricting the sale of such beverages to underage children across the province. Explaining the proposal, PFA Director General Noorul Amin Mengal told The Express Tribune that carbonated drinks are not good for the physical and mental health of growing children. He said PFA would issue guidelines to food outlets not to provide underage kids with carbonated drinks. “We have to protect our future,” he stressed.
The initial move to take carbonated drinks out of school cafeterias was aimed at addressing growth issues among kids. It was approved by the Punjab Food Authority board earlier this month, with implementation likely to begin after the summer holidays.
Mengal confirmed the authority was considering banning the sale of carbonated beverages to anyone under 18 years of age, considering their adverse effects. As far as schools are concerned, the authority will replace soft drinks with healthier alternatives such as juices or flavoured milk.
According to the approved guidelines, food has been placed in three categories – red, yellow and green. The red category includes food and drinks that should not be available at school canteens, such as carbonated drinks, most canned items, and sweets, toffees, candies, and chocolate.
Food in the yellow category, according to the proposal, should be sold in small quantities and displayed less prominently. Such items include tea, coffee, packed fruit juices, biscuit, ice creams, naan, shawarma, paratha rolls, patties, nuggets, French fries, samosas, pizzas, and burgers.
The third or green category was food that is recommended. It includes seasonal fruits, fresh fruit juices, fruit chats, chana chats, pastas, sandwiches, rice, flavoured and plain milk, milkshakes, lassi, flavoured yoghurts, eggs, and nuts.
The DG stated that the PFA was working on awareness campaigns to promote lunch boxes among school-going children.
Pakistan is among the countries with a stunted growth problem, which the Punjab Food Authority has taken up as a challenge. The authority, in its recently approved regulations, set new standards for oil and wheat fortification, keeping height and growth disorders in mind. It outlined vitamin A and D levels for oil.
Also, the level of folic acid, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12 were specified for wheat. PFA said fortification of oil and wheat would add nutrition value and address growth issues faced by future generations.
Food technologist and members of scientific panels have also termed soft drinks as harmful for children of a growing age. They stated that carbonated beverages, coupled with the junk food available at most school canteens, created a sort of “silent hunger”.
They stated that the body would feel fulfilled despite being deprived of key nutrients. The experts pointed out that soft drinks reduced bone density, creates stomach disorders and caused attention deficit.
The debate of banning soft drinks in schools is not limited to Pakistan or even Asia. On December 13, 2010, the then US president, Barack Obama, signed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. That law enabled schools to receive federal funding to offer healthy snacks and beverages to students. It also banned the sale of soft drinks to students and required schools to provide healthier options such as water, unflavored low-fat milk, 100% fruit and vegetable drinks, or sugar-free carbonated beverages.