A number of countries in the region have applied regulations on the matter or are in process of doing so, while Argentina has yet to start.
Ongoing debates on healthy eating in schools are taking place in several countries in the region. Honduras has passed a law on School Nutrition and Development of National Economy with the aim of ensuring access to healthy, harmless and nutritious food products for children in state educational establishments around the country, strengthening food and nutrition security in childhood. Guatemala seeks to pass a similar law on school food and nutrition, which has been approved in commission and is ready to be passed by Congress. Such bill will create the National Commission of Healthy Schools with the authority to restrict selling, advertising and distributing products which are high in calories, sugar, fat and sodium in shops, cafeterias, vending machines and similar outlets in educational establishments. Colombia has also created a School Food Program and the government is currently developing regulations to enforce it.
Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico are also debating projects on healthy eating in schools.
Brazil has seen six projects presented to Congress, some of which debated already, with various subjects such as including healthy eating and nutrition in the primary school curriculum in order to prevent obesity and related diseases; incorporating healthy eating in schools through organic products; supplying differentiated snacks for students with diabetes, obesity and celiac disease; monitoring the body mass index (BMI) in state and private primary and middle schools to detect and treat eating disorders as early as possible; creating vegetarian meal options in schools and hospitals; preventing child obesity and fostering proper nutrition in state and private schools.
Chile has presented two projects, one seeking to amend the General Law of Education in order to incorporate healthy eating and lifestyle, embracing diversity and erradicating bullying in all educational levels, and a second project looking to extend the prohibition to sell unhealthy food products from schools to the surrounding shops and markets.
In Colombia, the first initiative deals with applying integrated management of overweight and obesity, fostering healthy eating habits based on nutritional education and guaranteeing access to healthy food in households, educational establishments and work places, while the second aims at enforcing the School Food Program, creating the National School Food Agency and applying special norms in hiring school catering services, setting a scheme to be carried out, defining mechanisms of monitoring and controlling, and settling on a smooth transition to the program.
Mexico is working towards strengthening research programs connected to health, eating habits and nutrition, and increasing the numer of hours devoted to physical activity in the basic education curricula as recommended by the WHO in order to effectively tackle childhood and teenage obesity. A different initiative seeks to provide a yearly assessment of health and nutritional habits in schools.
In Argentina, Law nº 26.396 on eating disorders only refers to healthy eating habits in articles 9 and 11: 9 deals with healthy school habits and 11 with advertising products high on calories. Not only is it weak in terms of healthy eating habits in general and in schools in particular, but it has failed to be enforced and lacks the technical specifications required to fight obesity in the country.
Even though a considerable number of drafts on healthy eating have been presented to Congress, 21 of which refer to healty schools, they are yet to be debated or agreed upon by members of Congress. The lack of a healthy eating agenda in Congress has brought the matter forward in the multisector debate at Directorio Legislativo Foundation.
Along these lines of work, we took part of the meeting with consultants and advisors in the Education Commission in Congress, after meeting with its president, where we introduced our work group and presented our document on healthy schools, with several proposals on how to regulate food programs (for schools providing such service) and the offer of food and drinks (for schools with canteens, buffets or cafeterias).
The Healthy Eating Debate, a work group aimed at fostering healthy and balance eating habits, began in 2015, seeking to contribute to public policies, analyse draft bills, elaborate documents with its own stance and foster debates regarding the necessary changes and reforms to be made in order to improve eating habits in Argentina.
The parties involved in the debate are diverse in their opinion, interdisciplinary (doctors, specialists, nutritionists, public policy and health legislation experts are all part of the team) and multisector (industry, society, various state institutions and academia)
Institutions in the Healthy Eating Debate: Research Center on Food Policies and Economy (CEPEA), Nutrition Graduates Federation (FAGRAN), ISalud University, Free Lecturers on Food Sovereignty (CaLiSA), Argentine Nutrition Society (SAN), Directorio Legislativo Foundation, Nutrition Program (Ministry of Health, Buenos Aires), Interamerican Heart Foundation in Argentina (FIC), BASTA Project fom the Research Center on State and Society (CEDES), Research Center on Child Nutrition (CESNI), Buenos Aires Ministry of Health.
The document is endorsed by 9 of the 11 participating institutions: Research Center on Food Policies and Economy (CEPEA), Nutrition Graduates Federation (FAGRAN), ISalud University, Free Lecturers on Food Sovereignty (CaLiSA), Argentine Nutrition Society (SAN), Directorio Legislativo Foundation, Nutrition Program (Ministry of Health, Buenos Aires), Interamerican Heart Foundation in Argentina (FIC), BASTA Project fom the Research Center on State and Society (CEDES).