Since mid-March the schools have been closed and, with them, the school canteens. The most affected by this situation are the boys and girls beneficiaries of the dining room scholarships. Until the arrival of the pandemic, the main meal of the day was guaranteed. But what would happen from then on with the closed dining rooms? Given this scenario, all the Autonomous Communities turned to offer solutions to the families of these disadvantaged minors.
Among the different solutions that the 17 autonomous communities have provided we find the delivery of the money corresponding to the scholarship, the distribution of money or food cards through the social services … But, What has happened in Madrid? In this community they have opted to offer Telepizza and Knee menus (days later) to the 11,600 children who received these scholarships.
The criticism of this measure was immediate. There were not a few citizens who put the cry in the sky on social networks as soon as they met her. Then came the report signed by 17 nutritionists criticizing these menus. Later he joined the General Council of Official Colleges of Dietitians-Nutritionists issuing a statement € But the final media impact on the menu issue was given by the letter that the Gasol Foundation sent to the President of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, expressing “his enormous concern at the measures taken and its negative consequences that can have on the health of children. “
All this happens in one country, Spain, in which 30% of children are overweight and obese, being those who belong to families with fewer resources the most impacted by this problem, precisely those who receive these menus as an alternative to scholarships.
In this context, we have spoken with one of our dietitian-nutritionists head, Aitor Sánchez, author of the blog My diet limps and from the books My diet limps, My diet no longer limps and What do I feed him ?.
Aitor, what health effects does having this type of product have been consuming for two months?
The main effect is to predispose children to suffer illnesses related to the consumption of unhealthy food. If, in addition, we analyze the context and see that these menus were being given to children who are beneficiaries of the dining scholarship, we know that they come from families with lower incomes, which are just those who already consume this type of food. products and that higher rates of obesity represent € we are making the problem worse.
What are the harmful ingredients that these menus have?
More than harmful ingredients, the problem is that they are very uninteresting menus in terms of energy and nutrition. When something is unhealthy it is not only because it contains harmful ingredients, such as palm oil, sugar or trans fats, but they are very energetic menus, with very little nutritional interest because they have few vegetables, few vegetables, there is no presence of legumes. Almost everything is processed meats and many refined flours. We also have sugary desserts or sugary drinks. It is, in general, a very uninteresting menu at a nutritional level, very superfluous and that has no foods of interest.
The president of the Community of Madrid Isabel Díaz Ayuso has defended these menus, claiming, among other things, that it was either giving them that or that many children did not eat. Was there another alternative?
There were many alternatives. Many disseminators have mentioned some through our Twitter accounts. From my point of view this is the most criticizable issue, that at a political level a measure has been defended saying that it was the only alternative and, obviously, it is a lie. It is not pizza or anything, there were many alternatives. For example, not having suspended the contract to the caterines, who had won a public contest to feed some children. The contract is suspended and then hiring other private entities that have not passed a contest so that, above all, they give an unhealthy menu. There have been best practices in other autonomous communities, such as the delivery of purchase vouchers. With these vouchers, families could have gone to the supermarket to buy food. Products could also have been delivered directly to these families. A delivery that would be much more effective: it would not be necessary to carry the food every day, as has happened with these menus. If you had taken a purchase pack we would have decreased the distributions. It would have been a better alternative.
That a political representative offers these menus makes it seem normal to eat what is not?
Indeed, it normalizes it. But the problem has not been just the offer, but the defense that has been made of these menus. Even making fun, mocking and with arrogant attitudes before the criticisms that were being made. It has been said that all those families who criticized the menus did so because they would never, under any circumstances, give their children a pizza, without getting to the bottom of the matter. Fallacies of a very low political level.
Are we not serious about infant feeding despite the fact that 30% of Spanish children are overweight and obese?
Although more awareness is being generated in the population, we are still very slow in infant feeding. Some autonomous communities are beginning to take action, changing their school menus € But right now we still do not have an effective plan for the prevention of childhood obesity. We have some strategies that are ineffective, for example, the Havisa Plan, the Perseo Program €, but are clearly ineffective. Here the problem is that Spain tries to promote healthy eating without really taking the most effective measures because they are uncomfortable, because they are measures that would discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods, which are the main problem.
We have talked about the short-term effects on health that regular consumption of these menus can have, but what about the long-term? Can these menus create addiction and prevent children from wanting to consume other types of food?
We do not know yet if we can use the word addiction, because in food this topic is under study, but it is true that these unhealthy foods have a greater capacity to create dependency. People who have a toxic relationship with food or who eat more of some foods uncontrollably tend to consume unhealthy foods of this style. Rather than talking about addiction, we can say with absolute certainty that the consumption of these foods will predispose children to become accustomed to these levels of sweetness, flavor potency and then they will not accept conventional foods.