Dawn is a reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

Pupils surrounded by food outlets

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Rotorua Primary pupils are surrounded by outlets selling an array of foods, some of which are high-sugar, high fat. But principal John Naera says a school fruit programme is helping his pupils make healthier choices. Photo / Ben Fraser
Rotorua Primary pupils are surrounded by outlets selling an array of foods, some of which are high-sugar, high fat. But principal John Naera says a school fruit programme is helping his pupils make healthier choices. Photo / Ben Fraser

How many fast food outlets does your child or grandchild pass en route to school?

On the heels of a first-ever study of fast food shops around schools, the Rotorua Daily Post set out to analyse how many outlets selling sugary and fatty foods lie within a 1km radius of some local schools.

A nationwide study by Auckland University researchers showed more than 60 per cent of urban schools had a fast food shop within 800m; nearly 70 per cent had a dairy within that zone.

We visited several Rotorua neighbourhoods for a street view of what kids might encounter around school.

Rotorua Primary School, in the CBD, is nestled within a hub of commercial activity: offices, shops, banks, and hairdressers rub shoulders with shops, restaurants and cafes whose offerings encompass fine dining, fried chicken, pizza, fries, icecream, lollies and much more.

We counted more than 40 restaurants and food outlets within 1km of the school, not including bottle shops and bars.

Rotorua Primary principal John Naera says his school was close to a dairy, but pupils could only go there before or after school with parents. "I don't think I've seen a fizzy drink in our school for a long time."

Mr Naera said his school had followed a healthy lunch policy for years. While they used to have a canteen, students now have one day per week where they can buy lunches. In addition, the school participates in the Government's Fruit in Schools programme, which gives students access to high-quality fruit and vegetables.

"We've found kids' lunches are healthier than they've ever been. On Monday and Wednesday, the fruit is in and every child has at least one piece of fruit a day," he said.

The Rotorua principal looks to UK policies he says local schools could adopt.

"They've gone to water only. I'm not sure it needs to be legislated, but in schools, depending on priorities, 80 to 90 per cent of what kids drink is water. "

Mr Naera said he's concerned as children got older, they started drinking high-sugar caffeinated beverages to stay awake and study.

Auckland University researchers suggested legislative changes could be made allowing councils to restrict new unhealthy food outlets near schools, creating a healthy food zone.

A spokeswoman for the Rotorua Lakes Council said there had been no discussions by the mayor or councillors about the issue.

Over on Malfroy Rd, Westbrook Primary School sits near a dairy and petrol stations selling snacks. Principal Colin Watkins said enforcing healthy food choices was not the government's responsibility.

"Are you going to have laws that restrict dairies and Four Squares from selling products to kids just because they're going to school? That's crap. We have enough Big Brother action happening ... all that does is put the onus on shopkeepers to police something that should be a decision made between parents and their kids. I think it's a bit of a sad indictment on our New Zealand society that more of our parenting issues are dumped on schools."

New Zealand Secondary Principals Association Waikato and Central Plateau representative Philip McCreery said he'd support a proactive programme limiting the location of fast food outlets close to schools, "but I would also encourage schools to also work with these providers to find a solution, for example, encouraging them not to serve students in school uniform".

Fast Food around Schools Study:

* First of its kind in NZ

* Neighbourhoods checked from 2473 schools

* 69 per cent of urban schools have a convenience store within 800m

* 62 per cent of urban schools have a fast food shop within 800m

* Researchers want law changes to stop unhealthy food premises near schools

- Rotorua Daily Post

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