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The junk food just has to go

09 March 2006

As a parent, I applaud the School Food Trust's recommendation to withdraw confectionery, crisps and fizzy drinks from school vending machines - one of the proposals on non-lunch school food revealed by the trust last week.

However, some have seen this as the death knell for private caterers in the state education sector. For those serving school meals, the past 20 years have certainly proved to be a profitable period for caterers up and down the country, something that Jamie Oliver's television programme was right to highlight. But those private caterers have also focused themselves in recent years on addressing the healthy eating issue in this arena - both on the plate and in young people's minds.

Aside from the fact that the Government's contribution of £220m to the school meals cause is barely going to touch the sides, a loss of £40m a year - the value of vending in schools - albeit for a worthy cause, may make it untenable for many of the players in this sector. There is now an irreconcilable conflict between providing a decent public service and turning a profit.

Educating children's palates in the UK is going to be a slow and arduous task. It will require a great deal of marketing and enlightenment. It will involve parents' buy-in and the acknowledgement from schools that nutrition is an important subject for discussion.

Whether the removal of confectionery from vending machines will have a direct and positive impact on the stomachs of young people remains to be seen. Schoolchildren will continue to wander out of the school gates and buy a bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate during their lunch break. A gated policy throughout all our schools would be a start, because if we're not careful, the caterer's loss will be the retailer's gain.

By Amanda Afiya

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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