Pupils lend weight to obesity drive
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The government has placed schools at the centre of its new strategy to tackle Scotland's obesity "timebomb", telling them they must help establish healthy eating patterns from a young age.
Public Health Minister Shona Robison said the Government would work with the food industry, business and schools to tackle a problem that threatens to engulf 40 per cent of the population by 2030.
A report launched this week - "Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Route Map Towards Healthy Weight" - estimates that if things do not change, the problem could cost Scottish society pound;3 billion a year by 2030, compared to the current level of pound;457 million a year.
In 2008, 26.8 per cent of adults were obese and 65.1 per cent overweight; for children the corresponding rates were 15.1 per cent and 31.7 per cent. Only the USA and Mexico have higher rates of obesity.
Many of the school-based measures outlined in the report are not new - for example, the Active Schools programmes, the health and well-being strand of the Curriculum for Excellence, extended free school meals entitlement, and nutritional guidance on school meals.
However, the Government also wants to see a wider variety of "reformulated popular options" for school meals that comply with nutrition regulations and says it will support schools to make it more attractive for secondary pupils to remain in school for lunch.
It also plans to look at ways of restricting access by children to unhealthy food sold by businesses near schools and to facilitate "collaborations between schools and local food outlets" to promote healthier options.
While the Government will look at plans to measure the Body Mass Index (BMI) of school-age children, the report directs schools to work in a sensitive way that does not increase the stigma of being overweight and undermine the mental well-being of children and young people.
St Mark's Primary in Barrhead, where Ms Robison launched the anti-obesity strategy, encapsulates many of the Government's aspirations.
Gerard McLaughlin, headteacher of the East Renfrewshire primary, told The TESS that his school was one of four in the Barrhead area, along with another in Thornliebank, which has been earmarked for extra support from the council.
Around 30 pupils currently pay for a healthy breakfast of cereal, fresh fruit, toast and flavoured water; that number could quadruple next session when the school introduces free breakfasts for all P1-3 pupils.
Mr McLaughlin wants to introduce structured activities, designed by Active Schools co-ordinators, after breakfast and before the start of the school day, along with extra-curricular cookery classes involving parents so that families can learn together how to make home-made soups and other healthy meals.
East Renfrewshire leads the way in delivering the Government's target of two hours of quality PE per week. His school does this, says the head, by offering two 50-minute slots of PE plus a further 20-minute slot delivered by a teacher but designed by Active Schools co-ordinators. The aim is to get away from the situation where pupils spend too much time on a bench in the gym hall, instead of being active for most of the lesson.
The school was recently awarded more than pound;5,000 from the National Lottery's Awards for All fund - money which is being channelled into providing better play areas, including an outdoor dance zone for (mainly) girls.
Children who arrive at school without having had breakfast are sent to one of the two learning centre bases, where toast and a hot drink are served. School nurses are also promoting a new programme developed by the council - Aces (Active Children Eating Smart) - which is aimed at children and parents who want to tackle the problem of being overweight.