The funny thing about teenagers’ down time on a school day is that it’s anything but. They tell us their journeys to and from school, their breaks, their lunchtimes are taken up with their priorities: to relax, let off some steam, socialise and, yes, to eat. If they don’t think they’ve got enough time to do all of these things during their downtime, guess what’s often the first thing to slip off their priority list?
Maybe that’s why young people are so drawn to food on the run. The takeaway concept – something they can eat quickly, without cutlery, often without having to sit down (at least for long) works for their priorities.
The fly in the ointment (or the fat fryer, in this case) is that many of the takeaway options available to kids outside of school aren’t doing their health any favours. Salford City Council’s looking at a unique approach to tackling this, seeking views on plans to ban future takeaways near schools from serving any hot food until after 5pm.
We’ve always supported councils which are really getting hold of this issue – after all, our own research several years ago showed there was an average of 23 junk food outlets for every secondary school in England. Who knows what that figure would be now? Over the years, as schools have worked to improve the food they serve, many local authorities have begun using planning powers to prevent new takeaways from opening right outside the school gates. Many schools have brought in ‘stay on site’ policies for lunchtimes, preventing pupils from heading out to fill up on sweets, deep-fried fixes and sugary drinks which do nothing for their ability to concentrate in class. Crucially, rather than work against teens’ love of the takeaway, some schools have got really clever about recreating that quick-fix, food-on-the-go concept in their canteens in a much healthier way – mirroring those high street grab and go options that really appeal to young people, without the heavy doses of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
But one of the best ingredients I’ve seen over the years is where schools work with local businesses, including takeaways and supermarkets, to agree how and when they’ll sell food to pupils. There have been some fantastic examples of schools talking to these nearby businesses and coming to an agreement, perhaps making a deal not to serve pupils at all during certain hours of the day. These schools consult on their plans with parents and pupils and bring everyone along with them.
Noone disagrees that we want children to eat well, and any teacher will tell you that kids perform so much better in school when they’re not fuelled up by empty calories (research backs this up too). If we want them to grow up to be healthier than our generation, the whole community has to work together to help them make better choices about what to eat. It’s a big part of the recipe.
Dr Tricia Mucavele heads up our nutrition team. Get in touch for help with using stay on site policies at your school, or if you’d like help from our experts on working with your community on children’s nutrition issues.