Britain’s top doctors have warned that children’s health is at risk because free schools and academies are not required to serve healthy lunches to the pupils.
Professor Terence Stephenson believes that the government’s irresponsible and divisive policy has placed around two million children at risk of obesity.
Professor Stephenson is a leading paediatrician, as well as chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), which is the professional body for the 250,000 working doctors in the UK. He stated that the schools that opt out of serving healthy lunches were setting a bad example for young people.
Free schools and academies are under no obligation to comply with the nutrient-based food standard as grant-maintained schools.
Professor Stephenson stated that this is damaging to the health of the children. He said that exposing children in free schools and academies to unhealthy diets and foods when there is so much concern for obesity in this country is a step backwards.
He stated that too many schools have been given the opportunity to withdraw from an evidence-based system. He stated that it does not make sense to have a ‘them and us’ policy on such an important issue. If it is right for pupils in maintained schools, it should be the right policy for all children. It is irresponsible to operate a two-level policy.
The exemption was granted during 2010 by the education secretary, Michael Gove. It came after Jamie Oliver, the well-known chef, exposed how much poor food was being given to school children in his programme Jamie’s School Dinners. Last week, Mr Oliver urged ministers to prevent fast food outlets from opening close to schools.
During 2013, a report on obesity with key recommendations was issued by the AoMRC. Professor Stephenson stated his frustration and disappointment at the lack of progress on five of the suggestions, including a crackdown on advertising of junk food and an introduction of a 20% tax on all sugary drinks in a bid to reduce its consumption.
The Chief Executive of the Children’s Food Trust, Linda Cregan, said that the trust believed every pupil should be offered nutritious, healthy food at school.
The Department for Education has dismissed Professor Stephenson’s concerns, stating that there is no evidence that free schools and academies serve food that is less healthy than that served in council-run schools. The spokesperson said that it is untrue and disingenuous to claim that the academies food programme is harming the health of children.
A survey done by the Children’s Food Trust has found that 99% of academies have agreed to follow the standards set, even though they do not need to. In contrast, many of the council-run schools are failing in the provision of healthy food options and continue to service fried foods, pizza and fizzy drinks.
The spokesperson for the Department for Education has said that rather than pretending that a particular type of school is causing the problem, concentration should be placed on the provision of food in all schools.
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