School snack shops are promoting obesity by ignoring ministry-issued regulations on food

Potato chips, chocolates, sausage rolls, carbonated drinks, chocolate milk, chewing gum and lollipops can be bought from at least half of all school snack shops, despite clear instructions from the Health and Education ministries regarding the approved types of food and drink allowed to be sold at schools. School snack bars are adhering to few of these official injunctions. Instead, both the number and variety of these unapproved items are on the increase and, despite the increasing number of checks on these outlets, their administrators cite profitability and the fact that, in any case, the children can easily buy these items at the nearest store or kiosk. A recent survey by the Prefecture of Piraeus has shown that not only is there still a problem, but in many cases the school committees are not just aware of it but actually tolerate it. Public Order Ministry figures for the 2005-2006 school year show that schoolchildren face daily exposure to food items of questionable value. One in four school snack shops was found to be ignoring the provisions of the law and endangering the health of schoolchildren In 4,040 shops inspected, 1,219 were not obeying the letter of the law and violating it systematically, either by operating without a license or selling banned items. At another 154 of these shops, violations of the market and health laws were observed. The law not only states which foods can be sold and which may not, but declares that revenues from the snack shops are to be viewed as «revenues for the school committee and are to be made available for meeting or supplementing the school’s operating costs.» In fact, this latter provision enables the schools to raise the rent on these shops. «The generalized nature of the infringements of the law, as found upon inspection, is in fact covered by the law because the law does not consider school snack shops to be places where healthy food is consumed as part of the children’s education in proper nutrition, but as a source of revenue to counterbalance major operating costs,» said Piraeus Prefect Yiannis Michas. «As a result, the rent for leases on these shops is exorbitantly high, at the cost of children’s health, which the law treats as ‘capital’ to determine the amount of rent for the lease,» he added. The more pupils there are in a school, the more the lease costs. According to a ministerial decree, the lowest bid stands at 3 euros per pupil per year but is actually only a starting price for the auction of the lease. Prices go up to as high as 60, 70 or even 80 euros per «head,» according to the size of the school. The highest bidder is not always the person with the children’s best interests at heart, but the person who will bring in the most revenues. No wonder quality is the victim. «It is a vicious circle,» said Michas. «Since the start of the school year, we have had 70 violations of the law at 70 schools, but the problems have not been solved. Having more inspections certainly helps, but does not get to the root of the issue. For that we need to do away with the cause of the problem. We need more funds for education so that school snack shops can truly be non-profit businesses. Their role in the scheme of things has to be redetermined and made part of the children’s broader education. The type of food they provide should be determined by health experts and sold at low prices.»

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