Banning fast food shops near schools 'not enough to tackle obesity'
New paper published by the Food Research Collaboration explores student food choices
Banning fast food shops near schools won’t be enough to tackle childhood obesity, according to the authors of a new Food Research Collaboration (FRC) paper.
The briefing paper – Within Arm’s Reach: School Neighbourhoods and Young People’s Food Choices – focuses on 11 to 16 year olds across the UK and explores the factors that inform food and drink purchasing around schools.
Many young people are turning to fast food outlets, supermarkets and convenience stores outside school to buy their lunch, which can represent 23 per cent of their daily food intake.
The academics behind the study argue that school cafeterias and food outlets have major roles to play in encouraging secondary school pupils to make healthier choices and reduce their consumption of foods high in fat and sugar.
Professor Tim Lang, Chair of the FRC and Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, said: “When children go to school, one might think that they’d be safe from food pressures. This briefing paper shows this is not quite true.
"While the Prime Minister wrestles with what to do about children being targeted by sugary drinks, we suggest that any strategy he comes up with simply must build a safe and healthy food environment for kids. If this was drugs, there’d be a scandal.”
The briefing paper was written by academics at the University of Hertfordshire for the FRC, which is physically serviced from the Centre for Food Policy.
The authors claim that in recent years much has been done to improve school meals and the limited availability of some popular, but less healthy, foods in secondary schools may have resulted in unintended consequences.
Peer pressure coupled with perceptions that eating healthily isn’t ‘cool’ may be contributory factors to the number of young people heading to fast food outlets, supermarkets and convenience stores.
Wendy Wills, Lead Researcher for Food and Public Health Research at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “The food and drink sold on the high street to young people is a source of concern, in terms of the current public health agenda around obesity and nutrition. However, simply banning fast food outlets close to schools will not be enough to bring about change.
“We need a thoughtful but hard hitting approach that engages retailers as well as young people, schools and parents to create a wholesale shift in expectation about what kinds of food and drink we want our children and teenagers to buy. This briefing paper shows that a great deal of thought and action is still required."
The researchers argue that food outlets could offer ‘supersize’ promotions for healthy foods and not just for items such as crisps and sugary drinks to help drive down obesity.
School cafeterias should provide a better dining experience – a crucial factor in improving young people’s food purchasing habits. Their need to be with friends is of vital importance and cafeterias need to do more to be seen as an acceptable social space, while promoting ‘tasty’ rather than ‘healthy’ food.
The Food Research Collaboration is a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, to facilitate joint working by academics and civil society organisations to improve the UK food system.
FRC briefing papers present reviews of evidence on key food issues identified by and relevant to the FRC membership, which includes academics and civil society organisations.