Another Israeli tradition is about to be consigned to the bin of history – and good riddance, says Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman. No longer will “shoko,” the little bags of sugar-laden chocolate milk that generations of Israelis grew up on, be distributed in schools.
“We Israelis are among the worst in sugar consumption, and fourth or fifth in child obesity rates [in the world],” Rabbi Litzman said at a conference on children’s health in Tel Aviv. “This must be stopped, we have to stop giving our children this garbage. It is detrimental to the health of our youth. I will make sure that this is no longer distributed in schools.”
Little bags of chocolate milk have traditionally been distributed to children as snacks, rewards, and as part of meals in school lunches. In recent months, Rabbi Litzman has been waging a campaign to increase awareness of the health issues related to junk food, sugar-laden foods, foods with high levels of saturated fats, cheap carbohydrates. Earlier this year, Rabbi Litzman railed against fast food – specifically pointing to fast food chain McDonald’s, which has dozens of branches in Israel – and called on Israelis to avoid such establishments, for the sake of their health.
In cooperation with the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry 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, 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 their desirability. The healthier a food – taking into account its nutrient level, calorie, fat, sugar, salt – the higher a score it will get.
In a statement, Yotvata, one of the largest makers of chocolate milk, said that the company “invests great sums of money and resources in developing healthy products. Yotvata makes chocolate milk with very low levels of sugar – not more than a teaspoon and a half per cup – as well as chocolate milk with no sugar and with sugar substitutes.” Tara, another large producer of chocolate milk, said that it was the first Israeli dairy “to produce sugar-free chocolate milk and chocolate milk without artificial sweeteners, and the first to remove added sugar altogether from its chocolate-milk products.”