Food and Behaviour Research

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29 September 2005 - The Scotsman - Kelly pledges new rules to tackle 'scandal' of junk food in schools

Gerri Peev

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Scotland has been ahead of England in trying to improve the diets of our school children, as witnessed by their 'Hungry for Success' programme), but it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

First, schools need more resources to deliver the changes needed. Second, and more fundamentally, what children eat and drink is not just the responsibility of schools. To succeed in improving children's diets requires support from the rest of society - and again, the rest of the UK would do well to emulate other Scottish initiatives such as the Health Education Board for Scotland Healthy Eating program. Parents and health professionals play key roles, but the wider context also includes public awareness, peer pressures, food advertising, and the price and availability of healthy foods.

Increasing rates of obesity may be the most visible consequence of junk food diets - but what poor nutrition is doing to our brains is even more important. To effect real change, the general public, professionals and policymakers all need to work together - but all of them need access to reliable evidence of 'what really works'.

The mission of FAB Research is to provide more of that evidence, and to make it accessible to everyone - but despite the huge interest in our work from parents, professionals and policymakers worldwide, our work is still funded entirely by voluntary donations. Please join us if you can. The issues are too important to ignore - and they affect all of us.

VENDING machines dispensing junk food are to be banned in schools across England after Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, pledged to tackle the "scandal" of children's diets.

As obesity among youngsters increases, ministers have raised the amount to be spent on school meals. And Ms Kelly told Labour's conference that cheap processed sausages and burgers would be banned in schools from next September.

Westminster is following Scotland in revamping menus to make them healthier; Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has already pledged to ban junk food from school vending machines.

Schools in England that had previously tried to rid their machines of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks had been warned that they risked breaching their contractual obligations with manufacturers.

Despite some reluctance from headteachers, who warned any ban would simply lead to children smuggling junk food into their lunch boxes instead, Ms Kelly yesterday vowed to push through the changes by next year. "I am absolutely clear: the scandal of junk food served every day in school canteens must end," she said.

Tougher new rules will be brought in, limiting the amount of sugar, fat and salt in school meals, but the move will require fresh legislation. Vending machines will be stocked with milk, bottled water and fresh fruit if the changes are approved.

The government promised to improve the quality of school meals after a high-profile campaign by TV chef Jamie Oliver.