NUTRITIONISTS are campaigning for healthy eating to become a core subject in the school curriculum to target the growing child obesity problem in Spain, but have come up against opposition from parents.
Whilst the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN) argues that 20% of children aged six to nine are already clinically overweight – not just 'a bit tubby' or suffering from 'puppy fat' – meaning learning about healthy dietary habits is becoming a national emergency, parents say the curriculum should not be changed 'every time a new social debate arises'.
A report presented in European Parliament, backed by Spain's health and education ministries, was approved by a near-unanimous majority, but so far, no action has been taken in any EU member State.
Nutrition is covered in short-term modules or projects, but is not taught regularly throughout pupils' school careers, meaning they tend to forget even basic knowledge of food and health very quickly, the FEN says.
Children of all ages diagnosed as clinically obese – considered the benchmark for being dangerously overweight – are rising in number and getting very close to one in five, a similar percentage to those of early primary school years who are not obese, but still medically overweight.
As for adults, nearly four in 10 in Spain are overweight, according to the most recent figures, which were supplied by the Spanish Cardiology Society using data from 2015.
Excess body weight is a high risk factor in some of the most commonly-fatal conditions, including Type II diabetes, heart and circulatory conditions, and cancer, as well as being a major danger factor for degenerative joint conditions with overweight people being far more likely to need knee and hip replacements at a much younger age than those of a healthy size, often as early as their 40s or 50s.
But chairman of the Spanish Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations (CEAPA), José Luis Pazos, says 'nutrition already forms part of other school subjects' and 'does not need to be included as an independent one'.
“What we cannot do is start creating brand-new subjects in response to every social debate that comes up, because it messes with the curriculum,” Pazos argues.
“The most important issue is to work harder on the nutrition content within other subjects, and make the school canteen an integral part of the education process.”
Super-chef Martín Berasategui, who holds eight Michelin stars, says it is 'unforgiveable' how 'nothing is done to include nutrition in the school curriculum', and blames it on 'clumsy leadership'.
Co-owner of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Joan Roca – whose eatery was picked as third-best in the world by the British magazine Restaurant – says nutritional education is 'very important' and 'should start to be seriously considered as a priority' in schools.
Celebrity chef Carme Ruscalleda stresses that nutritional training is 'something that should accompany you throughout your life' and that 'it must be necessary' given that society has 'not become conscious of its childhood obesity problem'.
She stresses that unhealthily-overweight children are 'not an inheritance of Spain's culinary history'.