With elementary and junior-high schools resuming classes on Tuesday, the health advocacy group John Tung Foundation urged lawmakers to enact laws that would ban the sale of junk food within a 200m radius of schools.
“A significant lack of regulation on foods marketed to children has left them vulnerable to the temptation of high-fat snacks sold outside schools,” the foundation’s nutrition division chief Hsu Hui-yu (許惠玉) said.
Hsu said the government should follow the example of South Korea, which promulgated a special act on the safety management of children’s dietary life in 2009, designating areas within a 200m radius of schools as “Green Food Zones,” where the peddling of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are banned.
“Although compliance with the act is not mandatory and violations do not a carry a fine, more than 10,000 elementary and junior-high schools and neighboring restaurants in South Korea have voluntarily followed suit,” she said.
According to a survey conducted by the foundation in 2012, about 51 percent of young students routinely consumed junk food and sugary beverages for breakfast, such as French fries, hash browns, chicken nuggets and sodas.
A handful of the more than 1,000 elementary-school students polled said they ate junk food almost every day, a dietary habit medical experts said could lead to a higher chance of developing depression, aggressive behavior or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The Ministry of Education’s K12 Education Administration (K12EA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supported the foundation’s proposal.
However, the K12EA said that as there are currently no laws prohibiting stores near schools or educational institutions from selling unwholesome snacks, it can only make a moral appeal.
The K12EA plans to discuss with relevant government agencies the possibility of imposing a ban on the sale of junk food in school districts similar to the one imposed on Internet cafes, it said.
Internet cafes are banned within a radius of 50m, 200m and 400m of schools in Greater Taichung, Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) respectively.
The FDA said it has endeavored to improve children’s health by drawing up a draft regulation concerning the management of promotions and commercials for foods unsuitable for long-term consumption by children.
The regulation seeks to prohibit commercials for food high in fat, sugar or salt from being aired on children’s channels, and forbids their manufacturers from using toys in promotions to market such unhealthy products to young people.
An FDA official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the agency was also mulling outlawing the practice by convenience stores of using “bonus stickers” as a promotional scheme, saying it encourages children to purchase sugary beverages and high-fat snacks.
The promotional scheme rewards customers with a bonus sticker for every certain amount of purchase. Those who accumulate a certain number of stickers can exchange them for complimentary collectibles, such as cartoon figurines and stationery.
The official said the FDA was still seeking opinions about the plan from all sectors of society and should reach a decision in the latter half of this year at the earliest.
Additional reporting by Hung Su-ching