Don’t junk anti-sweets bill just yet

Question government must next consider is how to help all Filipinos afford these healthy choices.

September 6, 2022

A friend of mine was once under the impression that other kids who had been taught not to eat candies and chips were “corny.” Of course, we were also still kids at the time, and the thought of being looked strangely upon for munching on “junk” made her retort that it was the other way around.

The point here, first, is that snacks in school are often observed and commented upon by one’s classmates. That’s just normal as students learn about a variety of social lessons.

Second, there could be a number of reasons parents give their kids baon or allow them to eat sugary or salty food, fast food, and drink sodas. Preference, convenience — it could be anything.

So, does government have a right to dictate how children should eat?

Some are reacting quite strongly against Senate Bill 1231, or the Healthy Food and Beverage in Public Schools Act, filed by Senator Lito Lapid.

The bill, if passed, will mean it will be hard for kids to find “junk food and sugary drinks inside and within 100 meters from the perimeter of public and private elementary and high schools.”

Guess who might be at the receiving end of the collective wail.

Then again, Senator Lapid can only mean well by proposing a possible solution to a problem that had long bogged down the Philippines.

Child obesity and malnutrition are still prevalent among Filipinos, “which lead to the deaths of 95 Filipino children each day per the findings of a 2014 UNICEF Philippines report cited by the senator,” news reports said recently.

In 2017, as well, the World Health Organization came up with 10 health care issues plaguing the country.

The top challenge, WHO said, is our “fragmented” health care system, meaning: “There is a history of unfair and unequal access to health services that significantly affects the poor. The government spends little money on the program, which causes high out of pocket spending and further widens the gap between rich and poor.”

Next comes “access to basic health care,” which in the past administration was somehow augmented by the Malasakit Centers.

Third issue, according to WHO, are the high incidence of diseases like “tuberculosis, dengue, malaria and HIV/AIDS.” What do these have to do with the snacks bill by Senator Lapid?

“These diseases pair with protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient diseases that are becoming increasingly common,” according to WHO.

In other words, if people made it a habit to eat healthy while still young, perhaps they won’t get sick so easily.

A “proper diet” is often a goal but hardly consciously practiced. People only pay attention to what they eat when they get older and start to feel more aches and pains, or when they get sick.
Still, would mandating a healthy plan for kids be welcomed with open arms?

Perhaps. Over the past two-and -a-half years, some lifestyle priorities shifted and people began to seek more natural sources for food, as well as support a long-ignored movement for sustainability.

The times have changed the way we live, and producers and business owners are taking notice. Better-tasting yet healthy alternatives to what are considered junk food or fast food are now gaining more traction.

The question government must next consider is how to help all Filipinos afford these healthy choices.

Senator Lapid explained that “the measure seeks to promote a healthy diet and positive eating behaviors and provide healthy eating environments to learners, teaching, and non-teaching personnel in educational institutions.”

All very well, indeed — but you have to convince the adults first!

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