Municipalities in Iceland Raise School Lunch Fees

iceland education

School lunches and after-school activities will cost parents in Iceland more this year than last, RÚV reports. The country’s eight largest municipalities are all raising the fees for these services, though mostly in line with price level increases. The CEO of national parents’ association Home and School expressed concern about the changes, which he says will leave some parents with no choice but to cancel their food subscriptions or withdraw their children from after-school programming.

Despite being encouraged to keep their fee hikes to a minimum, all of the country’s largest municipalities have raised fees for school meals, after-school activities, and afternoon snacks. The fees also vary greatly between municipalities, with the highest and lowest fees for school lunches showing a difference of 71%. As last year, parents in Seltjarnarnes pay the highest fees for elementary school services and those with children in Mosfellsbær pay the lowest fees.

Public health issue

Arnar Ævarsson, CEO of Home and School, a national parents’ association, says the price hikes will have the greatest impact on those who are less fortunate, disabled, or immigrants, and those who have the smallest social support networks. The consequence can be very serious, and Arnar points out that stress, anxiety, and guilt that parents or guardians might feel over not being able to provide their children with the same things other children receive also impact the children themselves.

Arnar says there’s a need to change the rhetoric around school meals and discuss them as a public health issue rather than a service. “In the long term, there is a risk that poor nutrition will later affect the health of individuals. Then this is a cost that comes down elsewhere in the system,” Arnar stated. School meals are also a social equaliser when all children can partake in them, he added.

Widespread Iodine Deficiency as Diets Change with Times

Fish Shop Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Icelanders have stopped consuming the large quantities of fish and milk that they used to, leading to widespread iodine deficiencies. RÚV reports that the situation has nutritionists concerned, as iodine deficiencies in pregnant people can lead to developmental delays in children.

Both fish and dairy are integral sources of iodine for people in industrialized countries. Nutritionists stress the importance of iodine intake during pregnancy, as children who do not receive enough iodine during this time tend to score low on developmental scales. In some countries, iodine-fortified salt is used in the production of baked goods as a way of introducing iodine into a wider diet when fish and milk consumption is low. This is an option that is currently under consideration in Iceland, but could create its own problems. If iodine was introduced into baked goods and breads, for instance, young children would be at risk of ingesting too much.

A brief history of the modern Icelandic diet

The typical Icelandic diet was first examined in 1939, when Professor Júlíus Sigurjónsson concluded that where people lived naturally had a significant effect on what they consumed. At the time, Júlíus found that Icelanders who lived close to the sea tended to eat a great deal of fish, while those who lived inland tended to drink large quantities of milk.

No further studies on the Icelandic diet were conducted until just over half a century later, in 1990. By that point, Icelanders’ lifestyle had undergone incredible change and their diets attested to that. Nearly all of the energy Icelanders consumed in the 90s came from protein and fat, with the average Icelander consuming roughly half a kilo [2.2 lbs] of dairy and four slices of bread a day. Water was only the fourth most-consumed beverage in the country, after coffee (an average of four cups a day), milk, and sugary soft drinks. Cholesterol was high and coronary artery disease was common. But at the same time, Icelanders ate the most fish of any nation in Europe, proportionally speaking.

2002 – 2010

A study in 2002 revealed more dramatic dietary shifts. By that point, fish, milk, and potatoes had been replaced by vegetables, cereal, and pasta in the diet of most Icelanders. The nation had also developed a taste for pork and chicken, neither of which had been consumed in great quantity in the past. Young boys no longer drank half a litre soda every day, but a full litre.

By 2010, however, it seemed Icelandic dietary habits were moving in the right direction. People were eating more fruit, vegetables, unprocessed bread and fish oil. Protein drinks became a major source of protein. Sugary soda consumption went down, although consumption of sugar-free soda remained high. Milk consumption went down.

2019 – 2021

The most recent survey, conducted over the years 2019 – 2021, found that fruit consumption is down among Icelanders, while consumption of saturated fat is on the rise. The Directorate of Health advises that people should only get a maximum of 10% of their energy from saturated fat, but according to this study, only 2% of Icelanders abide by that advice. Wholegrain bread has only recently become widely available in the country. Nutritionists say that Icelanders now have the opportunity to increase their consumption of not only whole grains, but also beans, nuts, and seeds. Low fibre intake is a broad cause for concern.

“If we look at what is causing most premature deaths around the world, a lack of fibre is one of the things that makes the biggest difference,” remarked Jóhanna Eyrún Torfadóttir, a nutritionist with the Directorate of Health. “Lack of fibre is causing premature death.” If the pattern of high consumption of saturated fat, low consumption of fibre continues, says Jóhanna Eyrún, there will be an increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: “[O]ur biggest, long-term illnesses that are causing the most deaths.”

Icelandic diets are more diverse than ever

Today, Icelandic diets are far more diverse than they were in the past. More Icelanders are vegans and vegetarians, and more people are on low-carb and other special diets. This has made it difficult for the Directorate of Health to issue broad nutritional advisories like it once did.

In general, however, the Directorate has simple advice: Each a varied diet of moderate portions. People are advised to eat lots of vegetables and fruits, more whole than processed grains, fish two to three times a week, and meat in moderation. Low-fat dairy products and soft fats are preferable over saturated fats. Salt and sugar should be consumed in moderation and vitamin D is important.

Research Underway to Utilize Controversial Alaskan Lupine

A team of researchers at the University of Iceland is looking into the possibility of using Alaskan lupine for human consumption. The lupine’s presence in Iceland has divided opinion since it first arrived. The plant was originally planted around the middle of the 20th century to revegetate barren areas. The controversial lupine has spread all around the land since the 90s.

Where some see a problem, others see an opportunity. Such is the case with Braga Stefaný Mileris, Axel Sigurðsson, and Björn Viðar Albjörnsson, Ph.D. students in nutrition at the University of Iceland. “I think it’s fair to say that the lupine is the most political plant of the country, but the population splits into two factions when it comes to opinions on it. We’re now researching how we can utilize the plant,” he said in an interview with Vísir. The nutritious qualities of the lupine have not been researched extensively. “It’s an underutilized plant which grows all around Iceland, a setting and a climate where it’s not easy to grow things. So it creates value to find clever ways to utilize it, no matter for what,” said Braga.

They are looking into ways to make a drink out the lupine, both for human consumption as well as looking into using it for animal fodder. “Abroad, such as in Spain, lupine beans are easily reached in supermarkets. They’re stored in water just like other beans, and used in the same way. You can eat them as a stand-alone snack, make hummus or add them to bean dishes,” Braga says. The plant is naturally bitter, so the bitter agents need to be separated from the product. Measurements of the biological agents are currently underway and could open up the door for further research.

“Biological agents have health-improving effects, and there are a lot of biological agents in lupine found in Iceland. So, there are a lot of possibilities to possibly use it for drugs or active food products, which are foodstuffs with health-improving properties,” Braga said.

Dividing opinions

The Alaskan lupine becomes dominant where it manages to set foot. It was originally introduced by the Iceland Forest Service to combat barren landscapes and soil erosion. But plants that were already in place might be replaced in areas which the lupine spreads to. The plant spreads around at a rapid rate as the lifetime of its seeds is quite long. They spread with the wind in large stretches of barren land and are found in large spreads. Grass species that can well handle a lot of shade are often found in abundance along with the lupine. The ground can become more fertile and allow species to increase in numbers, compared to the situation beforehand. Many believe the colorful, purple plant lands an extra touch to the landscape. In parts of the country, measurements have been taken to reduce the spread of the lupine.

Red areas show the spread of lupine in 2016. Photo: Icelandic Institute of Natural History

Start-Up to Begin Algae Cultivation at Hellisheiði Power Plant

The international start-up ON Power will soon be starting an algae cultivation facility at Hellisheiði Power Plant just outside of the Reykjavík capital area, RÚV reports. The company’s owners believe that it won’t be long before algae will be a viable source of protein and nutrients which can be added to a variety of food products.

ON Power signed a 15-year contract with fellow start-up company Algaennovation concerning the sale of resources and property near the Hellisheiði power plant to begin their algae cultivation operation.

Microalgae are an important source of nutrients for animals in the wild and an equally viable as a source of vitamins for human beings. In the beginning, says Berglind Rán Ólafsdóttir, ON Power’s corporate market director, the company intends to cultivate microalgae as a food source for bait fish and then incrementally expand into using it in aquaculture, i.e. as food for farmed fish intended for both animal and human consumption.

In the long term, says Algaennovation founder Isaac Berzin, the is not so much to sell algae as a consumable end-product, but rather to treat and process it so that proteins may be extracted from it and added to other foods.