The European Day of Healthy Food and Cooking took place recently with the aim of raising awareness among children about the basic principles of good nutrition.

The European Commission has joined forces with EuroToques, the European association of chefs, to teach children about the importance of having a balanced diet, with the first event on healthy food and cooking taking place at the Peristerona primary school in the Nicosia District yesterday morning.

By organising fun workshops with top-level chefs in several European countries, the Commission aims to develop an interest amongst European children in healthy eating and cooking. If children learn to enjoy cooking, eat healthily and exercise regularly from an early age, they are much more likely to continue such practices in adulthood. This, in turn, could contribute to lowering obesity levels in Europe, as the adults of the future would be more aware of the need for a balanced diet and physical activity.

In Cyprus, all primary schools got involved with the celebrations for the European Day, with the events organised in co-operation with the Ministry of Education. At the Peristerona primary school, Cypriot European Commission official George Stylianou and the EuroToques President in Cyprus Panayiotis Hadjisymeou took part in the event.

Cooking workshops were arranged in order to exhibit to children how they could prepare simple, tasty but healthy meals themselves. Following, groups of children had the opportunity of preparing meals like vegetable souvlaki, aubergine millefeuille, sandwiches and different yoghurt creations, themselves. Chefs in several Member States visited schools and invited children to their restaurants to explain to them how to cook and eat well.

EU Health Commissioner Marcos Kyprianou, who attended interactive cooking lessons at a European school in Brussels, said: “Good habits practised from an early age are more likely to continue into adulthood. Through this partnership with Euro-Toques, the Commission aims to promote the importance of healthy eating to children in a fun and interactive way. Encouraging children to enjoy healthy eating and physical exercise is the best investment that we can make for their future.”

Sam Kazzaz is considered one of the top chefs on the island, owning the famous Limanaki restaurant in Pissouri. He said “there needs to be a balance in meals. We must always give children what they like but cook it in different, healthy ways.” He stressed that children eat what their parents give them and urged parents to ensure they have enough time to serve a healthy and balanced meal. “If somebody knows that they will be very busy on a certain day, they should plan ahead and prepare something from fresh and then put it in the freezer.” Kazzaz also noted that due to the nature of modern 24-hour-a-day society, the Cypriot diet is not as healthy as it used to be, with more takeaways being consumed.

Childhood obesity in Europe is growing at an alarming rate and is accelerating rapidly. In 2005, 14 million children were categorised as overweight or obese with an estimated 400,000 children entering this category every year. In 2007, the number has risen to 22 million.

There are serious health consequences for obese children now and as they grow up. Around 20,000 obese children have type-2 diabetes, over a million obese children are likely to show signs for cardiovascular diseases, and over 1.4 million may have early stages of liver disorder. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, meaning they will be at higher risk of developing cancer, heart disease and suffering from depression.

The European Commission has made action against obesity a priority. There has been longstanding co-operation between the EU and Member State authorities to co-ordinate actions to tackle obesity and exchange best practice. A number of obesity and nutrition-related projects are co-financed by the EU under the Public Health Action Programmes and the Research Framework programmes.

In 2005, the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health was set up, encouraging a multi-sector approach to address the obesity problem. The Platform brings together the food industry, NGOs, and advertisers who are committed to voluntary actions to tackle obesity, for example stopping advertisements of sugary drinks to children, providing better nutritional information in fast food restaurants, and reformulating recipes to have lower salt, sugar and fat levels. The Commission also adopted, in May 2007, a White Paper entitled ‘A strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Obesity and Overweight’.

Improving consumer information is key to helping EU citizens in making healthy lifestyle choices. EU rules are in place for food labelling, and before the end of 2007, the Commission will bring out a proposal to update the rules on general and nutritional labelling. In addition, the legislation on Health and Nutrition Claims entered into force in July 2007, ensuring that any claims made on food labels were clear and substantiated.

by Leo Leonidou. With thanks to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.