Compulsory food policies essential, say nutritionists
By TINA LAW - The Press
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2010

Health experts are calling on the Government to reinstate legislation forcing all schools to provide healthy canteen food.

National regulations restricting the sale of unhealthy school food were needed, a lecturer in public health and nutrition at Auckland University, Jennifer Utter, said.

"This type of policy would be cost-effective and would have the potential to benefit all young people," she said.

Her call was backed by Christchurch public health nutritionist Bronwen King, who said a compulsory food policy in schools was essential.

"What we need is strong leadership and tough measures, not the soft options they are dishing out now. Unless we get this, we will all pay the price," she said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Ruth Crawford said only blanket legislation across all schools and preschools would ensure they provided healthy food.

Last February, the Government scrapped a controversial Labour government directive that school canteens ban fatty food such as pies and sausage rolls and sell only healthy food.

Despite the call from health experts, the Government has no plans to reinstate the directive.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said schools were still legally required to promote healthy food.

"The new Government has a more balanced approach than the finger-pointing, nanny state attitude of the previous administration," he said.

"We trust school boards of trustees and parents to decide what they sell in their own tuck shops."

Most Christchurch pupils brought their school lunches from home, which was why the Government was encouraging a wider message about nutrition and exercise than just rules for school tuck shops, Ryall said. "The feedback we're getting is that not much has changed and that schools are still promoting health and nutrition."

Green Party food spokeswoman Sue Kedgley has collected 16,000 signatures from people wanting the standards reinstated. The petition was now with Parliament's education and science select committee, which had agreed to conduct hearings on the issue, Kedgley said.

A registered dietitian with the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, Sarah Hanrahan, said the range of food on offer in schools varied dramatically.

Some schools had opted to keep offering only healthy choices, but anecdotal evidence suggested many had reverted to their previous menus, she said.

A national programme manager at the National Heart Foundation, Jenny Stewart, said the foundation was working to combat the issue of unhealthy food in schools.

Somerfield School principal Denise Torrey said she supported schools selling healthy lunches but was not sure legislation was needed.

Papanui High School principal Denis Pyatt said he supported the legislation being reinstated.

Schools had worked hard to abide by the legislation and when it was revoked it left them open to the temptations of the world, he said.

Papanui High sold only healthy food in its canteen, he said.

More here.