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Scotland’s schools are becoming healthier

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New guidance hopes to cure Scotland's obesity problem.

This week new guidance on how to improve children’s meals in Scotland’s schools was published.

For campaigners the news is welcome but not before time. According to Brian Jardine of the Good Food and Advice Co., the country has been seriously lagging behind when it comes to healthy eating in schools.

His organisation has been tasked by the Scottish Government with promoting a healthy eating message to pupils and also to school bosses in charge of catering.

Jardine visits schools to help them create inspiring menus which are both nutritional and cost effective. He also teaches them the value of food, and how food should complement a young person’s lifestyle.

A lot of parents are harming their children by being kind, feeding them calorific drinks, snacks and meals - Brian Jardine

However while children seem eager to swallow the healthy eating message, local authorities have been more reluctant, especially since the public sector experienced big cuts to its budget.

“Healthy eating has to happen in schools first,” says Jardine. “A lot of children eat five days a week in school; it’s a big part of growing up. So if they are served balanced meals, then get some education on why food is important, we can tackle some of the country’s health problems better.”

The new guidance comes amid ongoing concerns about the level of young children at risk of being overweight or obese.

NHS statistics published in February show the figures have varied little for more than a decade, wavering between 21 and 23%.

The guidance, developed in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Athorities (Cosla) as well as third sector groups such as Children in Scotland, sets out advice on how to improve children’s knowledge about food and how it affects their overall health and wellbeing, partly in an attempt to address the obesity problem.

It states that all staff involved in school food provision and food education should have the opportunity to undertake professional training in food, health and the environment.

“It is basic common sense to many,” says Jardine. “But a lot of people just don’t think about healthy eating. A lot of parents are harming their children by being kind, feeding them calorific drinks, snacks and meals. By making them aware we can make them at least rethink.”

Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock, who was a member of the working group behind the guidance, said school food and food education represent significant opportunities to address some of the health and education challenges facing Scottish children today.

But while the guidance is a step in the right direction, Green MSP Alison Johnstone said it needed to go further.

“While it’s sound advice, what we really need is a commitment to improving schools’ access to fresh, local ingredients and a challenging of the unfair buying power of the big four supermarkets,” she said.

“We also need to address the serious issue of lack of space in our schools. I fully support the roll-out of free lunches to P1, 2 and 3, but we must make it an enjoyable experience, not a cramped feeding frenzy.

“Advice is also being promised to local authorities to help them combat the appeal of junk food beyond the school gates. This was due almost a year ago. It is an issue of great concern to many parents.”

Figuring out school meals

Children classed as overweight has remained almost static last 15 years.

All pupils from P1 to P3 are to get free school lunches in Scotland.

Quality and nutrition of school meals vary depending on local authority.

Guidance creates new standards across Scotland.