Friday, 12 July 2013

Lunch box fussbucketry doesn't work! Fact.


Today we've been inundated with the proposals to ban children having packed lunches:

Packed lunches could be banned and pupils barred from leaving school during breaks to buy junk food under a government plan to increase the take-up of school meals, which is to be announced on Friday.

The plan, drawn up by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, the founders of the food company Leon, aims to tackle the poor public image of school meals.

Now leaving aside the crassly illiberal nature of these proposals, we should note that this simply doesn't work as a strategy for improving child nutrition. How do we know this? Because, as Carl Minns points out, Hull City Council did just this by combining universal free lunches with draconian policing of the lunch box. And they asked Hull University to evaluate the effect. And they found:

The free healthy school dinners were not having the desired effect of improving children’s nutritional intake, children chose to eat the foods they liked and left the rest. Children who ate a free healthy school dinner went on to consume foods high in energy, fat, NME sugar and sodium later in the day and overall did not have a lower intake of these macronutrients than those children who had a packed lunch.

For adherents to the church of public health the proposals look good, sound good and get squealingly positive responses from sofa-bound BBC TV presenters. The problem is that - like most public health gimmicks they don't work.



Curmudgeon said...

Many children are, for various reasons, picky eaters and simply won't eat school dinners, so it's a choice of a packed lunch or going hungry.

Specifically, having an odd or limited diet is often a characteristic of people with autistic spectrum disorders.

Anonymous said...

It's not simply about lunch-boxes, the problem with school catering is choice, there's too much of it. Give immature minds a choice and they will get it wrong.

In my far-off days of school dinners the choice was simple - eat what was on offer or don't eat, there was no menu alternative (nor were lunch-boxes permitted). That allowed some overall management of nutrician, but still didn't force the reluctant to eat over-boiled cabbage.

However, the real issue is that school food can only ever constitute 15% of a child's total meal intake, the other 85% is eaten outside school. Making the content of that 15% twice as good will never reverse the impact of junk-food consumed in the other external 85%.

It's a non-topic. School meals should only ever be about minimum, healthy, essential, mid-day nutrition - no menu choice - if the kids don't want it, don't waste time on it - it's merely a trivial drop in an ocean of poor parenting.

Rob F said...

And of course, you have that definition of 'junk food'.

Marmite sarnie? Lots of B vitamins, but oh no...too much salt! What do we do? Won't someone just think of the children?!?

They just never let up, do they? I wish that oppenents of these maniacs would be less polite sometimes. I'd love to see a Tory, (genuinely) Liberal or UKip spokesman (or should that be spokesperson these days) to stand up, point out that children are NOT the property of the state, and tell them to shut the hell up and get a real job.

Never happen, of course