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
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.
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
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.”