At a health conference this week, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that he intends to “go all the way” in his war against junk food. “We can’t go out and force people at gunpoint not to eat junk food, but we do need to act to ensure healthy diets. The way to do this is with education, beginning in schools. We are working with the Education Ministry on precisely such a program, and to keep junk food out of schools.”
In recent months, Rabbi Litzman has been campaigning intensively to institute healthier eating habits among Israelis, especially children. In cooperation with the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry has announced that subsidized lunches served in school will cut high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar content and nitrite-laced processed foods like cakes, cookies, croissants, wafers, french fries, hot dogs, kebabs and even beloved schnitzels. In their place will come lighter, healthier fare, including hard boiled eggs, yellow cheese up to 9 percent fat content, cottage cheese, 5 percent spreadable white cheese, tehina, tuna and low-fat hummus.
According to statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics and analyzed by the Ministry, 44 percent of Israelis – nearly one out of two – are overweight or obese, and the same is true of 21 percent of first graders. By seventh grade, 30 percent of kids are overweight. Rabbi Litzman – along with many health professionals – believes that junk food is largely responsible for this situation, and he is considering numerous legislative initiatives to curb consumption of junk food. Among those initiatives are labeling – cigarette pack-style – the packages of snack food to emphasize their calorie and fat level, along with a “health score,” to be determined by professionals, which will rank food products on a scale between 1 and 10 (or 1 and 100) on its desirability. The healthier a food – taking into account its nutrient level, calorie, fat, sugar, salt, etc. – the higher a score it will get.
In the past, Rabbi Litzman said that among the biggest “victims” of junk food was the chareidi public. Children are often “treated” to snacks at Talmud Torahs, shuls and the like after they participate in learning sessions, and that practice needed to stop, or at least to be adjusted in order to prompt children to eat healthier.
“I started this campaign, and there are many who believe I do not intend to follow through,” said Rabbi Litzman. “I am hereby informing them and everyone else that I intend to follow through until the end.”