Principals battle fast food threat

By Michele McPherson

Principals in the Western Bay say educating children about healthy eating is the best way to combat climbing numbers of fast food outlets.
In the next few months, McDonald's is opening new restaurants close to schools in Te Puke and Mount Maunganui.
Te Puke High School, Te Puke Primary School, Mount Maunganui College, Mount Maunganui Intermediate and Mount Maunganui Primary schools will all be neighbours to the fast food giant.
And KFC opened its doors last week near Tauranga Girls' College and Gate Pa Primary School.
The new restaurants come as doctors in Britain are demanding tough government action to curb the nation's addiction to unhealthy food, including a proposal to introduce "fast-food free zones" around schools.
Te Puke High School principal Alan Liddle said he was concerned about the proximity of the new McDonald's, on the corner of Jellicoe St and Beatty Ave, to the school.
"A lot of work's been done over the last few years in terms of healthy eating in schools ... and it's really important that healthy options continue to be offered as much as possible."
Mr Liddle said schools already had to combat junk food bought in dairies and other nearby shops and takeaways.
"It's really about the schools, the parents and the community educating the kids to make more healthy eating choices.
"It's going to be even more important with fast foods becoming readily available at relatively low costs, it becomes a very difficult thing for kids."
Tauranga Girls' College principal Pauline Cowens said all the school could do was to educate students on healthy eating, and offer healthy choices to them.
"It is a commercial market.

If people want to open these sort of outlets they will.
"I don't think it matters whether it's close to school or not, the way that young people these days are mobile. They will find that food if they do want it. All we can do is educate."
Like Te Puke High School, Tauranga Girls' College had a "closed campus" at lunchtime, but Mrs Cowens said it was up to students where they ate before and after school.
"It's probably slightly easier to educate girls, who want to be healthy and are reasonably conscious of their body image."
The canteens at both Tauranga Girls' College and Te Puke High School have been awarded the Heart Foundation bronze award for healthy standards.
Mrs Cowens said the school canteen offered healthy choices, and  items such as pies which had been awarded the Heart Foundation tick. "You have got to be realistic. You have to offer things that are still going to be attractive to the palate of young people."
The effects of unhealthy food on learning had been well-documented, Mrs Cowens said.
"There's a lot of evidence to say that children who don't have breakfast or have a minimal breakfast, find concentration harder when they come to school.
"If they saturate their body with unhealthy levels of sugar or fat at lunchtime, they are sluggish after it, and learning is difficult.
"There is good research that links healthy diet and the ability to concentrate."
Nutritionist Fiona Boyle of Food Solutions said takeaway foods such as McDonald's and KFC should be eaten as a treat, and no more than once a month.
She said the idea of a "fast-food free zone" around schools would be difficult to regulate.
"[But] just because they are there, doesn't mean people have to consider them an every-day food.
"The closer they are to schools, it could be more tempting for kids to go there all the time."
Nutritionist Rachel Scrivin of Food FX was unimpressed by fast food outlets opening near schools.
"I think it's pretty bad. Kids are going to want to go to those places. That's just the global marketing - they are going to go for that age group, and it appeals to that age group. The fat and the salt and the sugar appeals to them, but it's not going to fill them up with anything nutritious.
"[Fast food outlets] are trying to bring out foods that are healthier ... but at the end of the day it's still fast food."
New Zealand was ranked the third most obese nation in the world last year in an organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.
Obesity is linked to a range of chronic health conditions, including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis.
McDonald's offers 'Lighter Choices' menu items, each one with less than 10 grams of fat per average serve. KFC offers salads and fruit smoothies on its menu.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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