107.It would seem obvious that schools have a role to play in tackling childhood obesity. Alison Tedstone of Public Health England, however, described work in schools as only a ‘starter’ to tackling the problem of childhood obesity, and warned against putting too much focus on this area:
There is also a bit of a danger that too much of a focus on primary school-aged children puts the focus on schools. We know that schools have improved immensely. Most schoolchildren in England now do not have access to unhealthy food while at school. A lot is being done. Children now learn to cook. They learn to cook savoury food as well as sweet food. Diet is embedded in a whole school approach. There are lots of advances. There is some room for improvement, but very little extra.
108.Jeanelle de Gruchy of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) described schools’ approach to healthy weight as ‘variable’ and ‘ad hoc’ since the end of the Healthy Schools Programme, and called for the addition of a healthy weight environment to the OFSTED inspection framework.
109.A specific area highlighted by witnesses was nutritional standards of foods in schools. We heard from our witnesses that significant progress has been made in improving the nutritional content of school meals through the school food standards, but concerns were raised that they did not apply to all schools. Academies and free schools—which account for 64% of state funded secondary schools and 17% of state funded primary schools—are exempt, although they have been encouraged to sign up to them voluntarily. Professor Simon Capewell of the Faculty of Public Health said:
At the moment, guidance on healthy food—lunches, for instance—only applies to state schools. It does not apply to academies. Why on earth not? This is putting on a huge pressure, making a big assumption about parental responsibility, and surely parental responsibility should be reinforced and supported for the children who go to academies as well as to other schools.
110.We also heard a strong argument that nutritional standards should apply to packed lunches supplied by parents or carers for children to eat in school. Jamie Oliver told us:
What teachers pull out of packed lunches is phenomenal. A can of Red Bull in primary schools is inappropriate …. What is interesting is that, because we have no nutritional standards, when a teacher removes this from a lunch box it can often become quite a fractured conversation between a parent who has had their stuff removed from their kid’s property and the teacher. There is no Government legislation so that they can disperse the conversation or the argument and say, “I am ever so sorry, Mr Brown, but these are Government guidelines and I am just doing my job.”
111.We recommend that clear nutritional guidelines should be published, setting out food standards recommended for packed lunches as well as food supplied by schools. We heard that lunch box food standards would be a valuable tool where teachers need to have conversations with parents about improving their children’s diet. Furthermore, while the introduction of school food standards is to be welcomed, it is an anomaly that they do not apply to free schools or academies. The aim of the childhood obesity strategy should be to improve the health of all children, so we recommend that school food standards should apply to all schools in both the state and private sector.
125 Department for Education, (accessed 15 September 2015
126 Department for Education, , January 2015
Prepared 27 November 2015