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Bid to end tuck-shop mentality on diet

Schools have been warned to practise what they preach in order to promote healthy living among young people.

Delegates were told at a "Partners in Health" conference by George Smuga, head of North Berwick High: "We must ensure that the values implicit in health education classes are consistent with practice in the school."

Bad practice was the toleration of "smokers' corners" and "tuck shops selling high-fat and high-sugar products," Mr Smuga continued. A health-promoting school should encourage activities such as lunchtime fitness programmes.

There were, however, "counter pressures" on young people which worked against healthy living. The stereotypical heavy-drinking, chip-munching Scotsman may be on the wane, according to Mr Smuga, who was the education member of the Scottish Office's diet action group which published its report in July. But "what other country could have pioneered the deep fried Mars bar?" he asked.

All too readily available were fast foods, heavily promoted through advertising presenting "a grossly imbalanced nutritional message". Living in an area of deprivation was another counter-indication of healthy living. Schools in such areas should therefore "be alert to framing their message in the context of the local environment," he advised.

Health promoters had to be realistic too, he continued, and recognise that warnings about illnesses such as heart disease were more associated with middle age and had little impact on young people. Reminders that diet and smoking, for example, affect appearance and sports performance, were likely to be more effective.

Mr Smuga went on to outline sound teaching practices within health education programmes such as active learning, peer education and school group counselling, the development of decision-making skills, up-to-date programmes which avoided being "patronising", parent involvement, and a "revisiting" of topics as pupils matured.

Government policy - such as withholding a complete ban on cigarette advertising - has not always been on the side of health promoters. But Mr Smuga praised the diet action plan for recommending healthy food specifications for school meals contractors.

Commercial pressures on contractors to provide chips, fries and fizzy drinks were "unhelpful" to the health-promoting schools, Mr Smuga said. Under the new recommendations, however, unhealthy options at school meals would be withdrawn or strictly limited.

"If implemented, they would bring about an end to the all-too-common school meals of chips, fried food, a fizzy drink and a Mars bar," he said.

* A new campaign to fight tooth decay among the under-fives has been launched jointly by dental staff at Dundee and Glasgow universities. They have combined to produce a distance learning package on the pre-fives for dentists and doctors. A key message is for the early registration of children.

The Scottish Office wants to have 60 per cent of five-year-olds free from decay by the year 2000. The current level is 41 per cent.

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