Increase access to healthy food in schools

Image credit: City of Lima / Vital Strategies

Globally, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children is increasing, and more than two-thirds of overweight children now live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).1 One way to meet this challenge is school food and nutrition policies that create a healthy eating environment.

Nationwide, Peru has high rates of childhood obesity. In 2010, only 9.3% of schoolchildren had eaten fruits and vegetables 5 times a day in the previous month.2 The Peruvian government passed a national law in 2013 to improve children’s access to healthy food – Law No. 30021, “Ley de Promoción de la Alimentación Saludable para Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes” – and a number of national programs have been put in place to support this commitment. However, there is still room for action at the local level.

Recently, in 2021, the Municipal Council of the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima unanimously passed a pioneering law to improve children’s access to healthy food locally. The new law was developed through a participatory process with the Healthy Eating Environments Task Force, a group of civil society organizations, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Commission for Public Health and Social Development in the municipality of Lima.

The law encourages – and in many cases requires – healthy food environments in both schools and restaurants. Schools may now serve only healthy foods and drinks to students on their premises, including providing access to fresh drinking water for all students. In addition, unhealthy foods may not be sold or marketed within 200 meters of schools. Together, these measures are designed to ensure a healthy eating environment for students, enable them to make healthy choices and protect them from marketing unhealthy foods. The new law also targets children and adolescents and was born through a participatory process with civil society organizations known as the Healthy Eating Environments Task Force, which works with the Metropolitan Commission for Public Health and Social Development of the municipality of Lima.

Under the same law, local restaurants need to adhere to new practices aimed at reducing salt and sugar intake. An incentive program called “Lima Come Sano” (“Lima Eats Healthy”) will promote restaurants that offer at least 20% healthy foods on their menus and prominently display the calorie count of prepared foods, in order to help consumers make an informed decision. All restaurants will be required to display a banner with the campaign slogan “Less Salt, Less Sugar, More Life,” and offer only salt and spices upon request.

This latter policy is directly inspired by a similar policy adopted in 2018 by the City of Montevideo, and also supported by the Partnership for Healthy Cities. Through the Partnership Network, Lima has engaged in an ongoing conversation about healthy food environments with other cities in Latin America. These exchanges allowed for successful strategies and experiences to be exchanged between public health leaders in Quito, Ecuador; Montevideo, Uruguay; Bogota and Cali in Colombia. They came at a time when cities in the region were struggling with the dual food challenge of high rates of obesity and high rates of food insecurity, which have increased across the region as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of Lima’s new policy, the city is providing increased protection to thousands of schoolchildren and diners. The city’s work complements national efforts to improve children’s healthy diets by ensuring a healthy food environment in and around school. With its new edict, Lima also highlighted the value of exchanges between cities in supporting effective policy formation.

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