Blog: Hannah AbdullaUK cuts fried food from school menus - will it tackle obesity?

Hannah Abdulla | 17 June 2014

The UK government has announced a new set of rules restricting schools from serving more than two portions of fried food a week.

The new rules, which kick in from January, will see schools in England be made to include at least one portion of veg each day and limit fruit juice servings to 150ml. They will also have to provide a choice of fruit and vegetables and encourage higher water intake.

The move comes as the Government looks to promote healthier eating and cut rising obesity levels among the UK population.

According to the National Child Measurement Programme's latest figures for 2012/13, a third of 10- to 11-year-olds were measured overweight or obese and over a fifth of four -to five-year-olds were classed obese or overweight. The move supports the view taken by a group of experts at February's Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum who argued current obesity levels across the UK could only be tackled by changing consumption habits from a childhood age.

But truth be told the new rules are a bit "patchy". Firstly, they exclude schools that became academies between 2010 and 2014, who are able to choose whether or not to implement the new menus. This begs the question of whether or not the rules are really going to be effective, especially when - in the main - children are only consuming one meal a day during school hours. There was already a nutritional programme in place since 2007 that the Department of Education says has "done much to improve school food" but admitted was "complicated and expensive to enforce".

The hope is that, with this new set of rules, schools find it easier to encourage healthier eating but another area overlooked has been the diet of children bringing in a packed lunch. Dietician Ursula Philpot told the BBC was around 57% of pupils ate a packed lunch, adding more needed to be done to encourage kids to opt for the now healthier school dinners.

But is it really the kids that need encouraging or is it the parents that need educating on what is healthy? Particularly since they are the ones responsible for their children's snack and meal options outside of the seven hours a day their children are in school.

Credit where credit is due - the Government's move to revamping school menus to include more nutritional options is a start. But the complexities of the obesity battle go far beyond school dinners, and include issues such as deprivation. Five-a-day is all well and good in theory, but what if you can't afford it?

However, it will be interesting to weigh up how much of an impact, if any, the new school menu truly has on current obesity levels.

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