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Childhood Obesity: Halting the rise

Healthy food in schools: European Commission and Maltese Presidency present valuable new resource for public procurement authorities in Member States

Today, at a meeting on strategies to address childhood obesity, organised by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the European Commission together with the Presidency presented a report that addresses a major obstacle in procuring healthy school food, namely the translation of school food standards into adequate procurement contract language. While currently focused on the school setting, the technical guidance outlined in this report could potentially pave the way to encourage the publication of a series of other similar publications focusing on other specific food settings, such as work canteens, care homes, hospitals and prisons.

Commenting on the report entitled "Public procurement of food for health: technical report on the school setting", Hon Mr Fearne, Minister for Health, Malta and Dr Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of Public Health, Malta  representing the Maltese Presidency, Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General of the Commission's health and food safety directorate, Dr Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Life-course and Elke Anklam, Director for Health, Consumers and Reference Materials from the European Commission's science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre said: "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 report we present today, provides technical guidance on, for example, how to draft clear specifications on foods and food services to be procured, which is intended to support EU countries in their efforts to provide healthy food in schools."

The report supports the EU High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity (HLG) and the Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020. Its specification sheets are based on recommendations from national school food policies, mapped across the EU in 2014 by the Joint Research Centre. It covers key food groups such as fruit & vegetables, meat, dairy products, cakes and sweets and nutrients such as salt, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and micronutrients (iron/calcium/vitamin C, etc.). It also includes specifications for food preparation and catering services in general.

The report identifies the following potential benefits:

  • Improved quality of school food service
  • Increased availability and accessibility to nutritious and safe food
  • Reduction of food insecurity
  • Minimisation of health inequalities
  • Improved dietary habits during childhood
  • Reduced incidence of childhood obesity and overweight
  • Positive effects on school attendance and performance
  • Development of health-minded schools

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