I’ve just been looking at the TES online and, having overindulged massively over the Christmas period, my eye was drawn to an article about obesity in schools. Whilst Jamie Oliver is one of my heroes and his efforts to change school dinners met with cries of “At last” and “Go Jamie” from my household, I am beginning to think that our politicians are, once again, putting pressure on schools and teachers to solve social problems for which they themselves should take responsibility. Our society and its eating habits have changed so much that the problem goes so much deeper than children not having cookery lessons. The problem lies with the fact that, even if you want to be healthy, the unhealthy things are hidden in our every day foods.
Of course children should get plenty of exercise and school is a good place for them to be introduced to new sports. Breakfast clubs are a fantastic idea. And I completely agree that food provided by schools should be healthy – ten years ago, I begged the Head of the comprehensive in which I taught to get rid of chips from the lunch menu, of crisps, cans and chocolate from the tuck shop and of vending machines from the corridors. I, sadly, wasn’t successful, but I do intend to talk to the Head of the school where I am now a governor about how we can ensure that the children’s lunchboxes are as healthy as possible. I also think that schools can and do have an important role in teaching children about what is and what is not healthy.
The Government’s ‘Healthy Weight Strategy’ may go one step further by expecting schools to have parenting classes and I am well in favour of involving parents in every aspect of their child’s education. I don’t, however, think that this goes anywhere near far enough. And I don’t think for a minute that weighing children in school and telling them that they are fat is going to help their self-esteem one iota. And I know from experience that having low self-esteem can lead to a child having an unhealthy relationship with food. How about instead that the Government takes a bold step and starts looking at what it can do to help our nation’s obesity problem. My suggestion would be, for starters, to ban artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (which can cause brain cancer), to ban the likes of palm oil and hydrogenated fat (the former causes obesity) and, heh, how about stopping the likes of McDonald’s and Coca Cola advertising to children?
However, I guess it’s easier to get teachers to do half the job for you than to make enemies of the hugely powerful international companies.