Hot potatoes;Leading Article;Opinion;News and opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
BAD TEETH they have and obesity may be their lot in later life, but today's pupils are healthier than those of previous generations. Many of the childhood diseases that took a toll on primary school attendance are under control. Those that killed or crippled young people - tuberculosis and polio, for example - have virtually disappeared.

Yet health promoters may still think they face an uphill battle against couch potatoes and a surfeit of potato crisps. Sam Galbraith, as a doctor and former minister for health, was right in emphasising the need to instil better habits in the young when he launched two HMI publications this week (page six).

As current minister for education, he should be pleased that bouts of ill health no longer prevent most pupils from attaining their best in the classroom.

It is the feeling of well-being enjoyed by most youngsters that stops them thinking about their lifestyle. They feel inviolate, which is why messages that "smoking kills" have little effect. They are won over to a healthier regimen by other means, perhaps the need for fitness in sport. The lunch menu is frequently the battleground between instant satisfaction (chips) and learning that tastiness extends more widely.

Mr Galbraith commends a whole-school policy, the subject of the HMI's efforts. Another report this week, the Edinburgh University study of young teenage behaviour, underlines the challenge. One consequence of better health is earlier physical maturity. So youngsters are acting like adults, prompted no doubt by the media. There is more drinking and more sex, both in fact illegal for the age group. The law won't have much effect. Schools may not want the responsibility but health education lands at their door.

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