Food and Behaviour Research

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2 March 2006 - BBC News - School snack ban plans proposed

Measures which would see the sale of fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks banned in schools have been set out by a nutrition advisory body.

The Schools Foods Trust was established by ministers who said they wanted to see a junk food ban in English schools.

Trust chair Dame Suzi Leather said child obesity must be tackled urgently, and schools must make it easy for children to eat healthily.

There will now be a period of consultation on the plans.

Ms Leather said many children were eating themselves into an early grave, she added, pointing out that obesity could shorten one's life by nine years.

"It's terribly important that we understand the magnitude of the public health risk," Dame Suzi told the BBC.

Obesity currently costs the NHS up to a £1 billion a year, and one in eight children are obese.

It is estimated that of the generation now entering school, a quarter could be obese by 2020 unless urgent preventative steps are taken.

The trust's advice follows recommendations from the School Meals Review Panel that new food-based standards should be introduced to improve school meal quality.

'Healthy choice'

Dame Suzi said: "They (the new rules) cannot succeed if pupils are surrounded with chocolate, crisps and drinks that fill them up with sugar and fat during the school day.

"It's not in children's best interests to have unlimited access to these products, and they replace the consumption of more nourishing foods.

"The evidence is clear - children are eating too many foods with too much sugar, fat and salt and little or no nutritional value.

"By managing choice we can increase the variety of foods our children eat and make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Seeds and nuts

She also said that evidence suggested behaviour and learning improved when junk food is removed from schools.

Additionally schools should replace these products with health products such as seeds and nuts.

Schools minister Jacqui Smith said the government would now hear wider views on the plans.

"The independent School Food Trust has proposed a robust set of standards for food which can be sold in schools through vending machines, in tuck shops and at break times," she said.

Head teacher and school workforce associations, dieticians, health charities, and food and drink organisations will be invited to submit the trust's proposals.

The government will publish the final version of the non-lunch food standards alongside the agreed standards for school lunches in May.

Trust proposals include:

  • Schools should stop selling confectionery and "bagged savoury snacks" other than nuts and seeds with no added salt or sugar.
  • Schools should offer a variety of fruit and vegetables in all food outlets and easy access to free, chilled drinking water.
  • The only other drinks available should be bottled water, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, pure fruit juices, yoghurt and milk drinks with less than 5% added sugar.
  • Drinks made from a combination of these such as smoothies, tea or coffee would also be allowed.

Chief executive of the Royal Society of Health Professor Richard Parish backed the new recommendations saying it was "about time that government, schools and the wider community put public health priorities first."

He said: "The School Food Trust report to government should not be seen as controversial, it's simply a case of finally putting children's health first, and is applauded from a public health standpoint.

'Ban ineffective'

"Everywhere children turn they are confronted with unhealthy food choices.

"It's vital that at least while they are at school they have an environment where healthy food is the norm."

Deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation Martin Paterson said it welcomed better school meal provision, but that banning foods was neither an effective nor a practical solution.

"We recognise that tuck shops and vending should not compete with school meals - although they can play a part.

"Balance is the key and bans will not help teach children how to build a balanced diet."