Friday, October 7

Obesity and poverty, closer than ever

Schoolchildren in gym. / File, Archive

School canteens, a healthy space, have become a luxury that many families cannot afford

Jose A. Gonzalez

Bollycao or piece of fruit? A choice for the snack of the youngest in which many factors influence: tastes, concern for the health of the little ones, availability of food and money. “In our country, the childhood obesity rate is double among the poorest families than the richest. When there are economic difficulties, healthy patterns tend to be set aside, ”says Alberto Garzón, Minister of Consumer Affairs. Childhood obesity also goes to class.

The Mediterranean diet passes by in Spanish children. Spain, along with Cyprus and Italy, leads the European ranking of childhood obesity. In the European Union, on average, about one in eight boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 8 suffers from obesity, but in Spain, “the average is one in five,” explains Cristina Junquera, head of Political Advocacy and Unicef ​​Spain Studies.

“Everyone has the right to access vegetables, fruit or milk,” says Junquera. A shopping basket that is much more expensive than last year’s back to school. The price of milk has increased this 2022 by 19.4%; that of the fruit, 8.4%; eggs, 19.9% ​​and legumes and vegetables, 6.2%. “We cannot afford that families cannot give their children these nutrients,” she warns. “Diets rich in sugars, hydrogenated fats, ultra-processed foods and fast food are harmful to children’s health and also lead to weight gain,” adds the report ‘Goodbye to the Mediterranean diet’ by Save the Children.

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Money, key factor

Physical activity, hours of rest, the use of screens, cultural and biological aspects and diet are some of the main determinants of obesity and overweight. These are the well-known healthy habits, but they also affect the economic ones and not only for not reaching the end of the month. “We cannot forget that the poorest neighborhoods tend to concentrate a greater number of restaurants and fast food establishments”, indicates Andrés Conde, general director of Save the Children.

The level of family income fills the shopping basket in one way or another. In numbers, this translates into the fact that 18.1% of children from households with lower incomes consume sweets on a daily basis compared to 10% of children with higher income.

The malnutrition of boys and girls, in the form of overweight and obesity, “is an epidemic in Spain,” denounces the NGO Save the Children. In Spain, the NAOS Strategy (Nutrition, Physical Activity and Prevention of Obesity) estimated in 2005 that the direct and indirect costs associated with obesity accounted for 7% of total health spending, which at the time represented some 2,500 million euros annual. “Obesity that can bring diseases in the future,” says Junquera.

The dining room, a luxury

School canteens play a fundamental role from a nutritional and educational point of view. “In these spaces, children learn to eat healthily and then pass it on to the family,” says Junquera.

However, the percentage of centers that offer a school canteen as a complementary service varies according to the type of center (public or private), according to the educational level (nursery education, primary, secondary and high school) and, in addition, the menu offered is very different , according to the center and the region.

According to data from the Study of Food, Physical Activity, Child Development and Obesity in Spain (ALADINO 2019), directly managed school canteens with their own kitchen are a minority, around 49.2% of all primary education centers that offer the service. In Andalusia, for example, only 8.5% of schools have their own kitchen, compared to 76% in Galicia.

The average price of the dining room is 4.6 euros per day. Prices range between 3.5 euros and 6.5 euros, with the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Navarra being the most expensive places.

An essential service for many families that has become a true luxury. “In many families, the expense of the dining room represents 50% of the total school expense,” says the head of Political Advocacy and Studies of Unicef ​​Spain. “It is inadmissible,” she adds.

The average price of the dining room is 4.6 euros per day. Prices range between 3.5 euros and 6.5 euros, with the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Navarra being the most expensive places. With a percentage of 27.4% of boys and girls in a situation of poverty according to the INE, only 11.2% of the students receive a canteen scholarship. By region, the Basque Country offers full coverage above its poverty rate, while Murcia, Melilla, the Balearic Islands and Cantabria barely reach 5% of these minors.

“The school canteen is fundamental, it is a very high expense for families and it is a really crucial space to promote healthy eating,” Junquera denounces. “We claim that it is a right to be able to access these dining rooms,” she adds.

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