All schools should be bound by food standards in a bid to cut childhood obesity – even those academies and free schools exempt by regulations, MPs have said.
As part of its report calling for a “sugar tax”, the House of Commons health committee has recommended a change in Department for Education policy for academies and free schools.
In January, new school food standards were brought in which require all schools to offer three different fruits and vegetables each week, and make milk available at least once a day, among other regulations (pictured above).
However, 3,896 academies and free schools set up between September 2010 and 2014 are exempt from the rules.
These exempt schools have been able to voluntarily sign up to the standards, and, as of November 6, 1,406 schools had done so, including some of the bigger multi-academy trusts such as Ark, Academies Enterprise Trust, Harris Federation, and Oasis Community Learning.
But the committee wants the school food standards to apply to all schools, with members urging the government to bring in the so-called “sugar tax”, highlighting that a fifth of children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to a third by the time they leave.
In its recommendations, the committee said: “We recommend that clear nutritional guidelines should be published, setting out food standards recommended for packed lunches as well as food supplied by schools.
“We heard [in evidence] that lunch box food standards would be a valuable tool where teachers need to have conversations with parents about improving their children’s diet.
“Furthermore, while the introduction of school food standards is to be welcomed, it is an anomaly that they do not apply to free schools or academies.
“The aim of the childhood obesity strategy should be to improve the health of all children, so we recommend that school food standards should apply to all schools in both the state and private sector.”
Giving evidence to the committee last month, celebrity chef and healthy eating campaigner Jamie Oliver said the “biggest enemy” of school lunches was packed lunches.
He said: “Many parents may well be righteous about what is in them, but from the last robust look at them only 1% fell into line according to nutritional standards.
“What teachers pull out of packed lunches is phenomenal. A can of Red Bull in primary schools is inappropriate.”
Public health minister Jane Ellison said: “This government is committed to turning the tide on childhood obesity.
“That is why we are developing a comprehensive strategy looking at all the factors, including sugar consumption, that contribute to a child becoming overweight and obese. This will be published in the coming months.”