Carrots don't start life in the supermarket

16th March 2012 at 00:00
A new pound;2 million fund will give schools more opportunities to teach pupils about food

Scottish schools are to receive pound;2 million over the next three years to teach children more about the food on their plates, the rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead announced last week.

Too many young people often had no concept of what it took to grow, market or cook their food, said Mr Lochhead at Scotland's National Food and Drink Conference in Perth last week.

"Ask them where carrots come from and they say the supermarket," he said. "This is not the fault of our children - it's society's responsibility. We need to do more to support our young people."

The money will support projects which allow children and young people to visit farms and local food producers to learn about the food they eat, and help teachers introduce food education into various areas of the curriculum.

Mr Lochhead also wants children to understand the career opportunities the food and drinks industry provides, he told TESS.

Some of the funding will be used to encourage the private sector to support schools in their work, both through cooperative projects and financial support.

The minister aims to make public sector procurement "as easy as possible" to allow local companies more of a role in providing healthy food to schools in their area.

It was worthwhile looking at the possibility of closing secondary school campuses at break and lunchtimes to discourage young people from making unhealthy choices off-campus, said Mr Lochhead. He plans to raise the issue with the health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon.

His view was supported by Janey Thornton, deputy under-secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the US Department of Agriculture.

Closed campuses not only encouraged healthier choices, they also helped children from deprived backgrounds adopt a healthier lifestyle, said Dr Thornton.

Her country was facing the challenge of balancing increasing hunger in some children against growing levels of childhood obesity, she said.

The recent Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act had assigned US government funding for school meals and would increase access to healthy food for children from poorer backgrounds. Increasingly, schools were not only providing lunch, but also breakfast clubs, and supper and snack programmes.

If the policies were successful and children grew up to be healthy, the benefits would go beyond their individual welfare, she said. It would lead to "broader arms to reach around the world tomorrow".

Eating our greens

The disappearance of traditional diets is partly to blame for the obesity crisis engulfing most of Europe, Dr Joao Breda from the World Health Organisation told Scotland's National Food and Drink Conference.

Traditional Scottish products such as oats and fresh fish were slowly disappearing and being replaced by diets higher in unhealthy fats and high sugar and sodium content.

Despite measures such as the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, introduced in 2006, progress was not "as good as it should be".

Dr Breda stressed the importance of physical activity. One Scandinavian country insisted that children were dropped off at least 500 metres away from their school, ensuring that they walked daily.

A tax on unhealthy products could persuade people to cut down, he said. In France, a tax on fizzy drinks had led to a four-litre reduction in consumption per person per year.

Dr Breda told TESS the Scottish government should be praised: "By adopting comprehensive policies and evolving them, Scotland has made progress and you have increased your fruit and vegetable consumption."

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