Fat still flowing over tuckshop counters

By Errol Kiong

Schools continue to serve foods high in fat and sugar despite skyrocketing childhood obesity, according to a new survey.

The Green Party study of 50 tuckshop menus found most schools - including some classified as Health Promoting Schools - continued to serve unhealthy foods a year after the first study found lunchtime staples were likely to include pies, hot dogs or sausage rolls.

"It is extremely disappointing and frankly baffling that we have seen little or no improvement to the terrible state of school lunch menus since last year," said Sue Kedgley, the party's health spokeswoman.

"Given the increased awareness and rising rates of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental decay, I am surprised that schools are selling foods that undermine rather than contribute to, children's health and learning."

Ms Kedgley said it was irresponsible for schools to turn a blind eye.

Last year's survey found pies, cookies, cakes and chocolate sold regularly at tuckshops, while fruit was not offered at most schools.

This year, 37 of the 50 schools made their menus available again: 35 of them were unchanged.

With the addition of other randomly selected schools to make up the numbers, the survey results showed only small improvements in some areas, and backward steps in others.

"The survey shows that simply waiting for schools to improve their menus voluntarily isn't going to work. Schools should not be permitted to sell food that undermines children's health, learning and well-being. Clearly we need guidelines and timetables that all schools must adhere to," said Ms Kedgley.

But Health Minister Pete Hodgson said there were already a number of programmes to help schools encourage good health, such as the fruit in schools programme and the Health Promoting Schools concept.

"The obesity epidemic is the greatest public health challenge facing New Zealand.

"We have to find ways to get healthier foods into our schools. Schools need advice and practical solutions from the food industry, parents and the Government," he said.

"What we can't do is expect things to change overnight. Schools are serious about improving the health of their students, but finding ways to get healthier food on the menu will take time.

"I'm working with the Ministers of Education, Sport and Recreation and Youth Affairs to make sure the whole of Government is doing all it can to combat obesity."

Bairds Mainfreight Primary in Otara, a Health Promoting School, has incorporated a number of changes to its tuckshop menu since 2003.

Principal Diane Raynes said the tuckshop now served meat pies with less fat, lower fat (they are more expensive) and alternatives such as vegetarian and chicken pies. The menu also features healthier fare such as quiches, popcorn and fruit.

Ms Raynes said pupils were discouraged from bringing fizzy drinks to school, and had a choice of juices, milks and water at the tuckshop.

The changes were made gradually, she said. "Once we put a healthy option in then we can take out a less healthy option."


TUCKSHOP STAPLES

The 2006 school lunch survey of 50 schools found:

* 90% sell cookies, cakes, chocolate or doughnuts (up 10 per cent)

* 85% sell pies, hotdogs, or sausage rolls (down 13 per cent)

* 30% sell fruit (down 2 per cent)

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