The Government must continue its fight to tackle childhood obesity despite the distractions of the EU referendum result.
That's the message from the School Food Plan Alliance and the Children's Food Trust charity, both of which have urged the Government not to forget about the issue of childhood obesity as it negotiates the UK's departure from the European Union.
The most recent Department for Education school census reported that over 15% of children are not claiming their free school lunch. "The census also shows a fall since last year in the proportion of children at primary school who qualify for free school meals, but aren't taking them up" said head of research, Jo Nicholas, at the Children's Food Trust. Nicholas continued to say that there had been a drop in eligible children who are claiming their free school lunch, from 86.7% to 82.9%.
Apart from being at home, school is where infants spend most of their time, hence, why many believe that tackling this increasingly important issue through school food and education, "has the potential to be one of those game-changing actions" said Linda Cregan, co-chair of the School Food Plan Alliance (SFPA).
Without claiming their free school lunch, children will buy lunch elsewhere or bring in packed lunches, of which only 1% meet the nutritional standards that apply to school food.
Subsequent to the result of the EU referendum, Cregan said: "Actions that have long been promised for the childhood obesity strategy must not be allowed to disappear into the noise and clamour of Brexit."
With or without the support of the EU, Cregan believes that a poor diet amongst young children could be successfully rectified, given that the right resources are provided in order to change the face of the current world where it is "easiest and cheapest to eat junk food". Giving children the education they need to continue newly founded healthy eating habits beyond the classroom, could also change children's diets for the future.
Jeanette Orrey MBE, co-chair of the SFPA and co-founder of Food for Life, added: "The foods children eat at school can help shape their eating habits for life", which is why the School Food Plan Alliance have devised 12 different action paths to help prevent childhood obesity, rather than methods to resolve the issue.
Established in April 2016, the SFPA aims to teach children the importance of eating healthily and to enjoy nutritious food. After conducting extensive research into why nutrition matters and what both parents and children want to see in a school meal, the SFPA set out to ensure they followed their key principles in order to make a big impact on children's school food and education.
So far, the SFPA have made cooking and food education compulsory up until the end of key stage 3, and cooking lessons up until the age of 14. Educating children ensures that a good understanding of cooking and a further love for healthy food can be taught to children from a young age. The importance of breakfast for young children has also been managed with the obligation to set up independent breakfast clubs in schools that need them.
Now, there are 184 schools operating free, healthy breakfast provision schemes, from the £3.15m funding supplied by the Department for Education. Since these changes have been made, there has been a distinct correlation between nutrition and academic performance.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Britain's future out of the EU, the SFPA remains hopeful that their passion and determination to make a change to school meals and attitudes towards healthy eating will surpass the current state of ambiguity surrounding the preparations for Brexit.
By Poppy Treadaway
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