Tackling childhood obesity in England – policy options, implementation practicalities, local approaches and the role of schools, 9th May 2019, a timely seminar to update Chapter 2 of the government plan to halve childhood obesity by 2030, and the important role that schools can play in supporting children and parents to adopt a healthy lifestyle. 

Richard Sangster, Head, Obesity Policy, Department of Health and Social Care, advised that the forthcoming ‘Prevention Green Paper’, due this summer, is likely to consider a range of nutrition issues, including tackling the concern around baby and infant foods and practice, salt reduction, and setting out the next steps.

The government consultations into food promotions, calorie labelling, and energy drinks are now closed.  The results are being analysed and the government are in the process of preparing responses. 

The discovery phase of the Local Authority Trailblazers scheme has been completed, and an announcement on the final ‘5’ is due shortly.

The government consultation on further restrictions to HFSS (high-fat-salt-sugar) advertising is live.  The government aim to ensure that future advertising restrictions are focussed on HFSS products that are linked to childhood obesity, along with encouraging brands to make their products healthier.  Have your say here: https://bit.ly/2FjCfio

Andrew Hudson, Assistant Director, Healthy Pupils Unit, Department for Education stated that they have commissioned Public Health England to consult on school foods standards and HFSS foods, taking into account new scientific advice on sugar.  He stated, “We do want to be bold in terms of sugar, we’re committed to that.

Mr Hudson revealed that a ‘Healthy Schools Rating Scheme’ is being brought forward this year. The current plans for the scheme is that it will be voluntary and allow schools to assess how they are doing for their pupils. These results will be made public, enabling parents to choose schools based on their performance.  Barbara Crowther, Coordinator, Children’s Food Campaign, Sustain, commented that the scheme should be mandated for all public schools.

Siobhan O’Mahony, Nutritionist and School Food Advisor, Health and Wellbeing Service, Leeds City Council, provided some insight into the Healthy Schools programme run by Leeds City Council: https://www.healthyschools.org.uk/

The Health and Wellbeing Service in Leeds have been operating for 18 years and were part of the original healthy schools programme.  Under their current programme, schools can apply for a ‘School Health Check’ with a view to achieving ‘Healthy School Status’.  They offer a number of resources to schools, including packed lunches and food policies, a packed lunch audit, and packed lunch low cost menu ideas.  They have also supported the introduction of savoury puddings at least once a week.  This is usually something like cheese, crackers and fruit. 

The service run a Pupil Perception survey that asks children and young people questions in order to generate vital information on their health and wellbeing.  The council then use the data collected to update their existing policies.  Alongside this, the service run a ‘Pupil Voice’ programme, with school food ambassadors, and have pupil monitoring and peer to peer encouragement for healthy eating. 

Tim Baker, Head Teacher, Charlton Manor Primary School

Tim Baker, Head Teacher, Charlton Manor Primary School, London, described the benefits of making food central to the school curriculum. The introduction of hives to the school garden allowed children to gain an understanding of the ecosystem. 

Children attending the school play an important role with food production.  Each pupil is given a diary so that they can keep a record of the journey of the plants they are growing.  He noted that pupils at the school are reaping the rewards of their efforts.  The school have a purpose-built kitchen where children are taught a range of subjects through the food they have produced.  Mr Baker revealed that the funding for the kitchen was possible because it is being used as a fundamental part of the Maths, English, and Geography teaching, so it is a legitimate expense for the school.  He emphasised, “Life is practical, let’s make learning practical.”

Barbara Crowther highlighted the conflict created between parents and children with the constant “nudge-nudge” advertising of HFSS foods.  She noted that there are “no circumstances where it is right for HFSS foods to be advertised directly at children.”  She referred to a comment received by the Children’s Food Campaign from a mother of three children who highlighted, “Families struggle every day to say no. We just need more that we can say yes to.

Source: Shahriar Coupal PPT Slide

Shahriar Coupal, Director, Committees of Advertising Practice, revealed that new monitoring technology is being utilised to identify harmful adverts in breach of the UK advertising codes.  Child avatars, which are set up to mirror the browsing habits of children, are being used to catch irresponsible gambling ads.  They are hoping to expand the use of these avatars to look at other adverts that may be harmful to children, such as ads for cosmetic surgery, slimming tablets, and influencers. 

Along with the Healthy Schools Rating scheme, we can expect a number of key government initiatives to support children’s health:

Cross-Government School Sports Action Plan

Public Health England Calorie Reduction Programme

Public Health England Sugar Progress Report – 2 year check