What we need is a league table of fatties

7th January 2005 at 00:00
This year our school action plan will tackle the big question. The one on everybody's lips and too many hips: childhood obesity. We chewed it over at our last staff meeting. What if every child were to eat 30,000 bags of crisps and get a free bean bag? No? OK, what about deploying enough drink and snack machines to buy back the playing field?

My idea, to put "Eating shite kills" in big black letters on the chicken burgers, is dismissed. I'm sent to put the kettle on, while more earnest types debate two possible approaches: a classroom strategy and a dining room strategy.

The classroom strategy - provisionally entitled "food for thought" - is educational. Teach children that pasta, salad and grilled chicken are less likely than burgers, beans and chips to end in chronic heart disease at 60.

Thus informed they will be more likely to make the right choice.

Unfortunately, not until they reach their mid-fifties.

The dining room approach - which we are calling "carrot and stick" - is simple: don't put rubbish on the menu. Eat healthy or go hungry. I like this one, but it's too totalitarian for the surviving Seventies liberals.

Then, just before we lose the will to live, someone comes up with a third way. Why don't we encourage the Government to introduce a national dietary strategy?

Here's how it might work. First, come up with a set of expected weight bands for children at each key stage. Then use these to set national performance targets; for example, 85 per cent of children to achieve their expected weight by 2007. Though poverty cannot be used as an excuse, schools in deprived areas, where access is restricted to cheap processed foods, will have targets slightly below the expected level. Schools in affluent areas, with access to quality food, gym membership, personal training and liposuction, will have targets slightly above.

To help schools achieve targets, children will be regularly weighed and plotted on a graph. Those who are overweight but close to the expected level will be put on a rigorous programme of diet and exercise in special booster classes.

Children too overweight to have any chance of meeting the expected level will be placed on the SDN (special dietary needs) register until the feasibility of amputation has been thoroughly debated. The impact of free school meals might be positive if schools adopt the carrot and stick approach during lunchtime, which will be known from now on as the dietary hour.

Because it is recognised that having a taller intake might give an unfair advantage to schools in leafier suburbs, a height-subtracted component will be factored into the raw results before publication in national league tables. Well, that's that sorted. Anyone for a chocolate Hobnob?

Steve Eddison is a Year 6 teacher at Longley primary school in Sheffield

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