School food shake up
After pressure from the Greens, the Government have helped secure the introduction of new rules that require schools to sell only healthy food and drink to students. The Green Party's own annual tuck shop survey, carried out over the past three years, have highlighted that a majority of school canteens continue to sell a staple diet of unhealthy food such as sausage rolls, hot dogs, pies, biscuits and other sugary, fatty foods. This is despite heightened awareness of the link between diet, health and learning, and also the introduction of Food and Nutrition Guidelines.
"Clearly schools were not making the change voluntarily, so I believe amending the National Administrative Guidelines to make it a requirement on schools was the next step," said Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley. "If we are to improve the health and well-being of New Zealanders, it's essential we start with children, teach them good eating habits and encourage them to make healthy food choices.
"One of the main problems is that many school canteens are contracted out, run at a profit, and for them it's easier to throw some sausage rolls into a warmer, than it is to make a healthy sandwich. This should not be used as an excuse to feed our children unhealthy food and drink that we know contributes to obesity, diabetes and other nutrition-related diseases. Schools which have made the changes and instituted healthy eating policies have all reported that children's ability to learn and their behaviour improved."
If schools needed help changing their food canteens, they can apply for funding from a $12 million Nutrition Fund, which the Green Party secured in last year's Budget.
The Government has made an agreement with two of New Zealand's biggest beverage companies, Coca-Cola Amatil NZ and Frucor Beverages Ltd, to remove full sugar fizzy and energy drinks from secondary schools by 2009. While this sounds really commendable, the likelihood is that the beverage companies will simply substitute artificially sweetened drinks (eg with aspartame) for sugary drinks, thus not improving nutrition and moreover increasing young people's exposure to an addictive, carcinogenic neurotoxin.
Meanwhile, in the US and Canada, an increasing number of schools have adopted a policy of banning junk food and introducing organic food in their cafeterias. At Lincoln Elementary, for example, the school's organic salad bar has proven so popular - and surprisingly economical - that all Olympia grade schools now have one.
Green Party media release 11 June 2007, www.organicconsumers.org/sos.htm www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/heha-newsletter-issue2
Action alert! What sort of food and drink does your local school sell to students? Is it fatty or sugary? Does it contain questionable additives such as colourings and artificial sweeteners? If the school has a canteen, alert them to the Nutrition Fund. Give the principal and school board copies of our 'Additives to avoid' sheet.