National

Support group highlights pressure to leave no food uneaten at school lunch

JIJI

Over 1,000 people across the nation have contacted a support group about problems triggered by pressure at elementary and junior high schools to leave no lunch leftovers, it was learned Monday.

The Tokyo-based group, whose name translates to the Japan association to help people overcome their fear of eating with other people, says teachers should not force students to eat every last bite.

The group’s view is that students should never be forced to eat. Instead, it says meals are meant to be enjoyed while giving students opportunities to learn about the importance of meals

The group receives requests for advice via the Line messaging app and other means. The total number of people who sought advice exceeded 1,000 over the 17 months through September this year.

Kenta Yamaguchi, who launched the group in May last year and serves as its representative, said that some days see contact from as many as 20 people.

The group holds a meeting every month to give children and parents opportunities to share their troubles. A total of 17 such sessions have been held in six prefectures including Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi.

According to the group, one student became unable to go to school and suffered from a fear of people after being forced to eat all of the food served at school.

Other episodes known to the group include those of a child showing reluctance to go to kindergarten, a student who vomited frequently for a year because of dietary instructions at a school baseball club and a student who had to change schools.

Forced eating at school has even led to a legal battle. In April this year, a male junior high school student and his parents filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the town of Nagaizumi, Shizuoka Prefecture, after the boy was said to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder and became unable to go to school after being forced to drink milk by a teacher when he was in elementary school.

Education ministry standards stipulate desirable amounts of nutrition children should receive in school meals. But the ministry calls on education boards to carefully consider the individual conditions of students and apply the standards flexibly.

Of those who asked for advice, 80 percent were people in their 20s or 30s who became unable to eat in front of others because of their childhood experiences of being forced to eat all of the food served at school meals. Of the total, 70 percent were women.

In many cases, teachers tell children to eat everything they are served partly to reduce waste.

“The idea of eliminating leftovers is great, but the problem is how to make that happen,” Yamaguchi said. “Children differ in how much they can eat. If they are forced, it becomes harder for them to eat.”

“If children don’t eat, a chance is lost to tackle their food dislikes. We want (schools to create) an environment in which children eat appropriate amounts of food with pleasure,” Yamaguchi said.