The long awaited national ‘Child Obesity Plan’, published by the government in August 2016, outlined a number of national actions relevant to improving the dietary choices available to children and young people (see Box 2).

Schools provide excellent settings to promote and enable healthy eating among children and young people (even more so where food is provided through breakfast clubs or afterschool provision).

School food provision is covered by the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services and specific guidance in ‘The School Food Plan’. 7 8 High quality school meals are an important nutritional safety net for low income families and guidance is available to school leaders on how to deliver healthy school meals that meet nutritional guidelines. 9

A survey analysing the content of lunch boxes in English schools found that 90% did not meet the dietary guidelines set for school meals and are in general lacking in fruits and vegetables. 10 A healthy packed lunch should contain foods from each food group in the Eatwell Guide. NHS Choices provide the following guidance for foods to include in a healthy lunchbox: 11

  • starchy foods – bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and others
  • protein foods – including meat, fish, eggs, beans and others
  • a dairy item – this could be cheese or a yoghurt
  • vegetables or salad and a portion of fruit.

Box 2: Child Obesity Plan 2016 – summary of actions related to food and diet 12

  1. Introducing a soft drinks industry levy, with funds going towards schools to promote physical activity and healthy diet.
  2. Taking out 20% of sugar in products through a voluntary reduction programme.
  3. Supporting innovation to help businesses make their products healthier through initiatives to encourage research and development.
  4. Developing a new framework by updating the nutrient profile model to encourage companies to make food healthier – this aims to make it easier for families to identify which foods and drinks are healthier and which are less healthy.
  5. Making healthy options available in the public sector, e.g. encouraging councils to adopt the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services.
  6. Providing support with the cost of healthy food for those who need it most, through continuing to support the Healthy Start scheme to provide vouchers to low-income families for fruit, vegetables and milk.
  7. Creating a new voluntary healthy rating scheme for primary schools, to recognise and encourage their contribution to preventing obesity by helping children to eat better and move more. This scheme will be taken into account in Ofsted inspections.
  8. Making school food healthier through updating the voluntary School Food Standards, encouraging academies to commit to tackling child obesity, and investing in breakfast clubs with funds from the soft drinks levy.
  9. Clearer food labelling through considering the most effective ways to communicate food content to families on packaging, such as teaspoons of sugar.
  10. Supporting early years settings by commissioning the Children’s Food Trust to develop revised menus these settings, to be incorporated into voluntary guidelines, and campaign to raise awareness of these guidelines.
  11. Harnessing the best new technology, for example by developing applications to support healthier eating decisions for adults, children and families.
  12. Enabling health professionals to support families by reviewing how healthy weight messages can be conveyed by midwives and health visitors; supporting all NHS providers to ‘make every contact count’ by raising weight issues with families.

References

  1. DEFRA, “The Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Affairs,” Crown Copyright , London, 2015.
  2. The School Food Plan, “School Food Standards,” School Food Plan Alliance, London, 2015.
  3. Department for Education , “Evidence Check for Universal Infant Free School Meals,” Crown Copyright, London, 2014.
  4. C. E. L. Evans, D. C. Greenwood, J. D. Thomas and J. E. Cade, “A cross sectional survey of children packed lunches in the UK: Food and nutrient based results,” J of Epidemiol and Community Health, vol. 64, no. 11, pp. 977-983, 2010.
  5. NHS, “School Packed Lunches Live Well,” [Online]. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/childhealth6-15/Pages/Lighterlunchboxes.aspx. [Accessed 5th September 2016].
  6. HM Government, “Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action,” Crown Copyright, London, 2016.
  7. DEFRA, “The Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Affairs,” Crown Copyright , London, 2015.
  8. The School Food Plan, “School Food Standards,” School Food Plan Alliance, London, 2015.
  9. Department for Education , “Evidence Check for Universal Infant Free School Meals,” Crown Copyright, London, 2014.
  10. C. E. L. Evans, D. C. Greenwood, J. D. Thomas and J. E. Cade, “A cross sectional survey of children packed lunches in the UK: Food and nutrient based results,” J of Epidemiol and Community Health, vol. 64, no. 11, pp. 977-983, 2010.
  11. NHS, “School Packed Lunches Live Well,” [Online]. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/childhealth6-15/Pages/Lighterlunchboxes.aspx. [Accessed 5th September 2016].
  12. HM Government, “Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action,” Crown Copyright, London, 2016.