School dinners and child obesity
School dinners - two words that strike repulsion into the hearts of most mums and dads of a certain age. But as our generation deal with rising levels of child obesity, it is now time to examine their benefits.
Love them or loathe them, for many of us they were a daily factor in our lives, save for the lucky few who brought ‘packed lunch’.
Whilst many of today’s children no longer have a ‘school dinner’ as they used to, there is still an argument in favour of advocating this type of controlled eating, even though many children complain, (which of us didn’t also) about the food. Meals taken in this form are by their very nature, an important part of a child’s education. From developing the ability to socialise, to teaching table manners and food knowledge.
In the United Kingdom, school dinners were introduced in some areas from around 1906, to combat the poor diet of children from working families as a means of improving general health. The school dinner as we know it today did not come into force until the 1944 Education Act was passed, making it statutory for local authorities to provide school meals.
By the early 1950’s forty-nine percent of the school population ate school meals and despite food rationing, children then, had healthier diets than their modern counterparts. As the years have progressed, so too have our changes in diet. The eighties and nineties saw a number of significant changes in society. Social and technological changes led to more working mothers, and increased use of the freezer and the microwave leading to a reduction in home cooking. Television and the computer have also contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle for many. Commercial pressures from supermarket advertising combined with the abolition of Home Economics/Domestic Science (your age will determine which) within the school curriculum have resulted in children leaving school with little interest or understanding of food preparation or nutrition. All of these plus a huge change in
the nations diet with much less fresh food being cooked and a greater reliance on ready made meals, are contributory factors in the increase in child obesity.
If this wasn’t enough, the Medical Research Council reported that sugar consumption in Britain alone had risen more than thirty percent between 1980 and 2000. The Institute of Child health reported that two-thirds of pre-school children had a poor diet heavily reliant on processed foods and rates of obesity had doubled between the same periods. All of this according to medical research means this generation of children is at an increased risk of developing heart and respiratory disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer than their more deprived parents or grandparents.
Where, I hear you ask do school dinners come into this? In my view, and I stress this is only a personal opinion, school dinners are as important to our children now as they were when they were introduced to combat national health issues back in the 1900’s. However, I must state that what they eat is of paramount importance and that high fat and sugar foods should be banned from these compulsory meals. Today’s youngsters need to be re-educated in the science of food and nutrition, to slow, if not halt the rapid onset of the obesity issue. School dinners can help in this re-education.
My family and I are confirmed foodies, however there are many families who are either working or for whom food is not of such great importance. I have two school age children who have always attended schools where meals are part of the system and whilst they may complain occasionally about them, it has made them learn to try and eat foods that may not have entered their world otherwise. Children are by their nature inquisitive and if we can feed this with greater knowledge of what is good and not good to eat through something like school dinners, this can in my opinion only be fortuitous for their future.