On the heels of a first-ever national study of fast-food shops around schools, the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend set out to analyse how many outlets selling sugary and fatty foods lie within a one-kilometre radius of several local schools.
A nationwide study by Auckland University researchers showed more than 60 per cent of urban schools have a fast-food shop within 800 metres; nearly 70 per cent have a dairy within that zone.
We visited several Tauranga neighbourhoods for a street view of what kids might encounter around school. Greerton Village School, near the roundabout at Cameron and Chadwick, sits among a hub of commercial activity: you'll find shops, banks, hairdressers - and an abundance of outlets selling everything from fresh soups, produce and sandwiches to fries, pizza, burgers, lollies and pies. Bay of Plenty Times Weekend counted 27 outlets, not including bottle shops and bars (see map).
Earlier, Greerton Village School principal Anne Mackintosh told the Bay of Plenty Times restricting unhealthy food outlets may not be realistic.
"I don't know how feasible it would be, there's so many outlets. It would be very difficult to police." She said educators encourage healthy eating habits at school, and they've banned fizzy drinks and lollies.
In addition to banning high-sugar foods, the school included healthy food tips in their newsletters and after school teachers escort the children in walking groups.
"We go right past the shops ... there's no chance for the kids to peel off and go buy things. But it's out of our control if parents pick them up and take them," Ms Mackintosh said.
Chadwick Rd Dairy is just around the corner from Greerton Village School, however owner Hemand Deo said students did not often come in on their own, rather they would come in with their parents.
"What the parents think is good for their child, that's what they buy." It was not always treats, either Mr Deo said, rather a mix of what the shop had to offer.
Baker Bob's, a bakery on Chadwick Rd, also near the school, sold hot pies and sausage rolls, sandwiches and pastries. Penny Ashley-Carr, who works there, said students from Greerton Village School came in mostly with their parents.
"A handful of the primary kids come in with their parents to get a little treat or something. It's normally more the college kids from Tauranga Girls' and Boys'."
She remembered there was a tasty bakery nearby when she went to school as a teenager but she had not been overly tempted.
"I grew up knowing when it was a good idea to have that kind of food. Not before school and only sometimes after school it would be okay to get a little something."
Down the street, a row of shops near Merivale School include two dairies, a cafe and a fish and chips shop. About 1km away stands Fraser Cove, which houses fast-food outlets including Burger King, Turkish kebabs, fish and chips, plus a dairy, bakery and sushi shop. Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti said she tried to make those kinds of outlets out of bounds for pupils, forbidding them from coming on to school grounds with items such as pies. But she said staff couldn't police every instance of unhealthy food.
"We try to make it so kids don't have fried chicken and pies - we don't have those kinds of things in school anymore ... it's a bit of an ongoing battle for us. It's tempting when it's right in front of you."
Ms Tinetti said Merivale used to allow bakery lunches to be sold at school, but stopped because kids would buy fatty foods instead of sandwiches.
Auckland University researchers suggested legislative changes could be made allowing councils to restrict new unhealthy food outlets near schools, creating a healthy food zone. Ms Tinetti liked the idea, though she said restricting alcohol outlets around schools would be her first priority.
"I see kids who go off to intermediate and there's the temptation of having big fast-food chains at Fraser Cove. It's hard for them and doesn't set them off in a good way for learning."
She said the argument that parents must teach healthy habits wouldn't work if they didn't practise healthy eating. "Regulation is one way of teaching people."
Tauranga Boys' College also sits at a fast-food crossroads: just 200m from school is a row of shops with Burger Fuel, Sushi Q, Cameron Caf, Dominos Pizza, Pita Pit and Subway. Across the road, there's Hell Pizza and McDonald's; on the opposite side of the street, a dairy and the Cheesecake Shop. Two kilometres down the road more food choices await, including Wendy's, a bakery and coffee shop.
I think laws should be created that are actively going to be enforced, and I don't see how you'd enforce such a law. Young people will find a way to get fast food, despite the best intentions of legislation.
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Tauranga Boys' principal Robert Mangan said while obesity was a concern nationwide, mandating a healthy food zone might not be the answer.
"I think laws should be created that are actively going to be enforced, and I don't see how you'd enforce such a law. Young people will find a way to get fast food, despite the best intentions of legislation."
Mr Mangan says the 1000 boys who bussed to school were not permitted to head to shops. "It's pretty hard to manage students who walk to school past dairies and McDonald's ... It's pretty tempting."
Ms Tinetti said Merivale received milk and fresh fruit through its own initiatives and KidsCan, a charitable trust that provides healthy food to low-decile schools. She said this was having an impact, though changes were slower than she'd like. "I want it happening yesterday ... Sitting with your peers eating a meal is the strongest learning our kids can do around the issue of healthy eating. It does make a big difference."