Gareth Hughes: It's time to reinstate food and nutrition guidelines in schools

Opinion 14/02/2019
Photo: Getty.

By Gareth Hughes, Green MP

OPINION: Children, young people and their families are gearing up for a new school year. As a parent, I know about the excitement, anticipation and opportunities for a fresh start that a new year brings… and the hassle of preparing lunch boxes.

As a Member of Parliament, I’m concerned about the health and educational cost of junk food. But as a dad, I know how difficult it is when rubbish food is everywhere.

This month marks ten years since a National Government scrapped the ‘Food and Nutrition Guidelines’ for schools. In those ten years, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and last year alone, 29,000 Kiwi kids had teeth pulled.

The guidelines required schools to review their practice and offer certain food and drinks either every day, sometimes or occasionally. Common sense, not nanny state.

They were scrapped by National but at what cost?

I recently surveyed secondary schools about the foods available for purchase on school grounds. I discovered that lollies, chocolate, fizzy drinks and deep fried foods are on sale in many schools on an everyday basis. Furthermore, other sugary and high energy foods often make up over half of a typical tuck shop menu.

Feedback from school leaders and canteen managers shows that they want to be places that provide affordable, tasty and healthy food. They want to be places which promote good nutrition and wellbeing. Every day they see the impact that sugary, low nutrient-dense food has on students. They see it in their students' energy levels, health outcomes and behaviour. It has everything to do with teaching and learning.

I’m talking with the Education Minister to help support schools to offer healthy, nutritious food, so our kids can excel. With up to a third of a young person’s food intake at school, let’s give them a variety of nutritious choices, setting them up for life long healthy habits and supporting them to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

Gareth Hughes is a Green MP.