Healthy school environments: a key policy in the fight against childhood overweight and obesity

The Ministry of Health of the Nation published a document that condenses a series of recommendations for the implementation of policies to prevent overweight and obesity in children and adolescents (NNyA) in educational institutions. It is extremely necessary that these recommendations become effective public policies.

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This Thursday, March 21, at the Secretary of Government of Health, the presentation of the Document of Standards of Healthy School Environments was carried out.

Overweight and obesity worldwide make up a serious public health problem that has acquired pandemic characteristics, which currently shows a worrying upward curve in children and adolescents. In our country, according to a recent report published by the Secretary of Government of Health in collaboration with UNICEF, overweight and obesity in NNyA represents the most prevalent form of malnutrition.

Currently, many children and adolescents grow and develop in “obesogenic environments”, that is, environments that encourage the excessive consumption of kilocalories and critical nutrients such as sugars, fats and sodium; In addition to offering multiple barriers to the development of physical activity and encourage sedentary behavior. Thus, the lack of regulation that promotes healthier environments has favored the growth of overweight and obesity in recent decades.

The objective of the document published by the country’s highest health authority is to establish standards that guide the process of enacting laws and implementing effective programs aimed at transforming current “obesogenic school environments” into “healthy school environments.” Given that the educational institution is a privileged scenario to promote health and the development of a healthy diet and lifestyle, it is considered essential to promote healthy school environments through comprehensive regulation that defends the rights of children, girls and adolescents and that it provides them with substantial protection.

Specifically, the Ministry of Health recommends the development of school environment regulations that revolve around two main areas: healthy eating and physically active school.

For the promotion of a healthy diet in school, school canteens must comply with the established nutritional criteria and with the standards of preparation and food service. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the cooks and kitchen assistants are constantly trained in topics related to the tasks they perform.

In addition, it is essential that the school implements a Food and Nutrition Education (EAN) strategy, and that it promotes healthy eating habits in the dining rooms. Likewise, a school infrastructure must be guaranteed that facilitates access to a healthy diet and, essentially, to safe water. In regard to healthy eating, it is also essential to regulate the sale of food and beverages within educational establishments -of all levels and modalities- and, to that end, ensure that the school is a space free of advertising, promotion and sponsorship of food and drink.

Likewise, and given that the school institution is the most important institutional actor in the promotion of physical activity in childhood and adolescence, the aforementioned organism considers that the school should facilitate access to the practice of physical activity, both in the formal and not formal, and install healthy and active habits, incorporating these topics in teacher training, ensuring accessibility and security in the spaces, with a view of inclusion.

We consider that the technical recommendations of the Ministry of Health for the design of healthy school environment policies are adequate to protect the right to health of children and adolescents. Guaranteeing healthy school environments constitutes an obligation assumed by the State and an opportunity to articulate with social and academic actors. The effective implementation of this policy is an objective that can only be achieved through an intersectoral articulation of different government actors (such as the Health, Education, and Social Development sectors, among others) and through a continuous process that guarantees the sustainability in the implementation and monitoring of measures.