Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Should school canteens be held accountable?

A review of 263 school menus across Australia identified that only 30 percent of primary schools and fewer than 19 percent of secondary schools are compliant with nutrition guidelines. What hope do kids have when national nutrition guidelines are flouted by the very school canteens and tuck shops where they should be most firmly upheld?

I actually believe that the next generation’s preferences for healthy or unhealthy foods are established long before those kids first put food into their mouths and several recent blog posts highlight the mechanism for these epigenetic, trans-generational effects and the importance of making them positive rather than negative ones. School tuckshops come a long way down my list of potential positive influences.
But let’s face it, lots of parents have missed the boat in bequeathing their kids a taste for healthy foods. Lots of parents don’t have the knowledge or the intestinal fortitude that it takes to change the junk-food diet that their kids favour. So can we expect school canteens to set an example? I believe we can - but this recent report indicates that Australia still has a long way to go in getting rid of soft drinks, confectionery, cakes, pastries and other unhealthy fare. Legislation? Hardly a popular move, even though one Australian state has taken that step.  

I don’t know what my local high school serves at its canteen. But trending to green and healthy would explain why on recently queuing to pay for petrol, I was delayed by half a dozen teenage boys on their way to said school, scratching around in pockets for loose change. Eventually boys exited the servo with several litres of Coca-Cola and at least two cans of energy drinks apiece. Pity the teachers whose classes they will inhabit. But power to someone who can change those habits or limit the availability of such choices by school students at 8:00 am - maybe NYC Mayor Bloomberg has an idea?

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