Between the 1950s and the 1990s, the rate of overweight children has increased five-fold, and it has gotten much worse since then, according to studies discussed Tuesday in the Knesset Education Committee. The urgent session was called to investigate complaints that educational institutions have “ignored” instructions by the ministry director-general to keep fatty and unhealthful food off school grounds. These include vending machines, kiosks and cafeterias.

Heads of the From Today: Israeli Forum for a Healthy Way of Life, which initiated the discussion said: “The time has come to create a supportive environment and to take the poison out of the schools.” In recent months, the forum has held sessions to discover how much of such food is being sold to school pupils.

Representatives of the Education and Health Ministries and of food and beverage companies were invited to the committee. They heard data on the “obesity epidemic” among Israeli pupils.

Not only Americans are fat -- so are many Israelis. Sixty-four percent of the whole population suffer from overweight -- a figure that puts the country among the top 10 in the world.

In addition, 42% of Israeli children consume at least one sweetened beverage daily; drinking only one cola or other such beverage a day raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 22%, the forum said. Israel spends NIS 10 billion a year on treating chronic diseases connected to overweight and obesity.

Nir La’or, director of the forum, congratulated the Education Committee for the “important discussion on the nutrition of schoolchildren and the need to provide a supportive environment for their good health in a place in which they spend so much of their time... As the committee discusses it, the Education Ministry is preparing a “tool to effectively enforce its regulations” and remove unhealthful food and beverages from the schools. Prof. Itamar Raz, chairman of the From Today forum, a leading diabetes expert at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem and head of the Israel National Council on Diabetes, told the committee that the Education Ministry’s regulations must be carried out immediately in parallel to educating parents and their children about healthy lifestyles. Already in 1990 we began to see a significant rise in child obesity, but nothing was done. The time has come to act assertively to halt the obesity epidemic,” Raz said.

MK Gila Gamliel added that the enforcement system in Israel “has no teeth. This time it directly harms our children’s health. The failure to enforce regulations issued by the ministry director-general encourages children’s overweight and a rise in obesity and other diseases. We must learn to adopt healthy lifestyles and existing educational models for pupils’ nutrition.”

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