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Helping EU schools become a springboard for healthy diet and lifestyle habits

healthy meal School children do not currently meet the daily intake recommendations for fruit, vegetagles and water
©Fotolia iMarzi
Apr 07 2017

As eating habits form early in life, children and adolescents are one of the major focus groups of the JRC's nutrition and health-related work. On World Health Day, let's take a look at the recent achievements in this area and how this work contributes to healthier school environments.

The benefits of actions focusing on children and adolescents are likely to extend well beyond childhood and have an impact on the future of the children and the society at large. This is why a considerable part of the JRC's health promotion work is dedicated to schools.

"Schools are a protected environment where children can learn about the essentials of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Promoting healthy habits in this context can have a multitude of benefits, from improved school performance to reduced obesity levels, and minimised health inequalities", says Sandra Caldeira, nutrition expert at the JRC.

Mapping national school food policies

Childhood obesity is a growing problem with nearly one in three children in Europe being overweight. In 2014, the JRC carried out the first comprehensive assessment of school food policies in Europe. This was an important contribution to the European Commission's efforts to address this issue. The study showed that European countries acknowledged the important contribution of school food to children's health and that they had guidelines for school food, but that these varied considerably from one country to another, ranging from voluntary measures to compulsory bans of certain foods or drinks.

"Many school children in Europe consume at least one meal per school day. Eating healthily during these meal times not only ensures meeting the immediate dietary needs of the children but also reinforces their healthy eating knowledge and behaviour", explains Stefan Storcksdieck genannt Bonsmann, one of the lead authors of the school food policy study at the JRC.  

In addition to the report summarising school food policies across the EU, the JRC also prepared country factsheets with more detailed information on national school food policies and relevant related data.

Helping schools to buy healthy food

In February 2017, the JRC and the Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety presented a report on public procurement, which makes the case for considering health aspects in food-related public procurement by schools. The report presents best practices and offers operational guidance for translating existing healthy school food standards into appropriate procurement specifications.

"Making the healthy choice the default choice is essential if we are to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic spreading across Europe. Burdensome public procurement rules should never be an obstacle to providing school children with healthy meals. The JRC report provides technical guidance on how to draft clear specifications on foods and food services to be procured by schools", says Elke Anklam, JRC Director for Health, Consumers and Reference Materials.

Promoting water, fruit and vegetables in school menus

Fruit, vegetables and water are cornerstones of proper nutrition. However, evidence from across Europe shows that school children do not fulfil the corresponding intake recommendations. In 2016, the JRC published a set of toolkits on promoting water as well as fruit and vegetables in schools, to support the European Commission, the Member States and schools in general in their efforts to raise healthier children. The toolkits combine practical information on education, environment and parental involvement with guidance on process and outcome monitoring and evaluation.

We hope our reports, toolkits and factsheets will help change the landscape across the EU in efforts to promote healthy diets and lifestyles, in schools and beyond. Please feel free to share your success stories or suggestions for further improvement!

Success stories and suggestions can be emailed to jrc-nutrition@ec.europa.eu.

JRC information material on school food