Editorial: Parents key to eating choices

By Andrew Bonallack

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Andrew Bonallack.
Andrew Bonallack.

The University of Auckland has published the first nationwide analysis of retail food environments around schools in New Zealand.

And you probably guessed it: There is a significant number of fast-food, takeaway and convenience outlets near our schools.

The analysis found that more than 60 per cent of urban schools had one of these stores within 800m, with a maximum of 85 "unhealthy" outlets per square kilometre in the case of one school. The most deprived schools had the higher densities of outlets, the report said.

Read more: Big hurdles for 'healthy food zone'

It certainly should be noted that the extremes in this situation, including social deprivation, probably occur in Auckland, and Auckland's problems are not necessarily our problems.

But how far are we supposed to go when it comes to policing food choices? The report suggests that "healthy food zones" might be an option, to limit children's exposure to unhealthy food choices.

Six convenience stores in Hamilton signed up not to sell soft drinks to children in school uniform and that is laudable, but I am reluctant to demonise fast-food outlets and dairies simply on the basis of proximity to schools - or even on the basis of what they do for a living.

That's really key to this: These stores are making a living in a pretty unobjectionable sort of way. They are part of our community. A while back we did give dairies a hard time for selling legal highs, and those products, unquestionably harmful, have gone.

Surely healthy eating and drinking is an educational and parental issue. If a school kid does grab a pie or has a soft drink as a standard, occasional part of his week's routine, is there any harm in that? And if another kid is drinking vast quantities of soft drink, eating pies and chips every single day, then that's an extreme situation that is resolved through education and better parenting. Fundamentally, a child can want a pie and chips, but if he hasn't got the money to buy it, he better get home and make a sandwich.

If parents are giving children money to buy unhealthy food, that's a parental issue, not the fault of a shop that happens to have a steak pie ad outside.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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