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Eat healthy food wherever you can!

Is healthy nutrition so unimportant for children? The question arose – after the initiative of the Green Minister of Food, Cem Özdemir.

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Eat healthy food wherever you can!

Is healthy nutrition so unimportant for children? The question arose – after the initiative of the Green Minister of Food, Cem Özdemir. He advocates banning candy ads aimed at children (especially if the candy is advertised as breakfast). But the reactions to it were irritating.

The FDP rejected the idea so vehemently that children eating chips and gummy bears for breakfast were a minority worthy of protection. But the green applause for Özdemir's advance was so frenetic, as if banning was the golden path par excellence. Both reactions seemed frivolous in their exaggeration - as if two ideological tribes were taking the opportunity to bash each other and act out their for better or worse obsessive relationship with prohibition.

However, a comparison of this passionate rhetoric with the poor practice in the federal and state governments is even more sobering. Because it shows, regardless of the color of the respective government, how subordinate the goal of healthy children was until now. And – with some reservations – still is.

To make clear what is at stake here, let me remind you of a few facts: For years, doctors and nutritionists have complained that around 15 percent of children in Germany are overweight, around six percent are obese, i.e. extremely obese - with the result that they it often stay for life. Yes, the course of a lifelong history of suffering is set early; the course for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint damage, obesity-related infarcts, strokes or cancer. In North Rhine-Westphalia alone, around ten thousand people are treated in clinics or rehabilitation centers as a result of their obesity.

But despite all educational campaigns, there is no trend reversal. This is primarily due to the children of poorly educated and low-income families (often with a history of migration). Their proportion of overweight children is constantly increasing, while that of children from middle-class families is decreasing.

For around 15 years, researchers and politicians have been pointing to one, no, the decisive approach: nutrition in day-care centers and schools. Because more and more children eat the majority of their meals in daycare, primary and secondary school. For children up to the age of ten, this already applied to over 80 percent in 2019. 89 percent of all young people in Germany have at least the opportunity to eat a warm lunch at school. If you want to develop a sense for wholesome, fresh food in children, you should bring the meals in daycare and school to a high standard as quickly as possible.

In 2008, quality standards of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) for schools and soon after for day-care centers were developed for the first time. In order to implement these standards, networking centers for school and daycare catering were created in all federal states - which are financed and promoted by the federal and state governments.

But what have the federal and state governments done over the past decade and a half to make these good approaches a success? Far from enough. Where it would have been their very own job, in public day care centers and schools, the task was suddenly too big for them. Cem Özdemir recently admitted that the DGE quality standards have proven themselves and offer "a good basis for balanced and environmentally friendly catering".

However, they are not followed for a long time. On the contrary: 15 years after their introduction, the minister admits that politicians still have to fight "that this standard is implemented." Even elementary standards are still not binding. It is unclear if and when they will. Even in the countries one cannot avoid this admission.

After all: In some countries like North Rhine-Westphalia, the government is currently considering whether they should possibly use “the quality standards of the German Society for Nutrition” as “guidelines for daycare and school kitchens”. you consider! That would have been an acceptable start - 15 years ago. In the year 2023, however, this testifies to how subordinate the goal of healthily nourished children has been in practice up to now.

But the attempt to increase the quality of the food without legal coercion, namely through the advisory and encouraging networking points, has also come to nothing. In the meantime, a number of federal states, like North Rhine-Westphalia recently, have admitted that "these approaches could not be implemented across the board". The government in the federal and state governments should rather start a concerted action "healthy day care center and school" - instead of delivering a media-affine ideology war over an advertising ban.

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