Schools earning money on junk food
Irish schools are earning thousands from fattening up children by placing vending machines outside classrooms.
That was the warning from the Irish Heart Foundation this weekend, who said the schools were slow to remove the machines - which are laden with fizzy drinks, chocolate and crisps - because they are earning thousands a year on commission and then ploughing the funds back into school facilities.
The news follows Dr Donal O'Shea's plea in last week's Sunday Independent for the Government to tackle childhood obesity, describing it as the key to ending Ireland's path to becoming the fattest nation in Europe.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Irish Heart Foundation Dietitian Sinead Shanley, who undertook the research on vending machines in schools, said there was a distinct lack of willingness by the Government to take on the problem in Irish secondary schools.
"I would say it has got to do with money. Schools are earning commission on vending machines. Between €1,000 to €4,000 per annum.
"This is being used as revenue, which can be then ploughed back into the school. But schools shouldn't be depending on this money.
"The Government should step in. Something which they are not doing, even though we have been calling for a complete ban on junk food in schools as far back as 2007.
"In the last two weeks, we have written to the minster for education to ask her to ban the vending machines and have yet to receive a response."
The Department of Education has previously stated that there were no plans to ban vending machines in secondary schools due to the fact that schools' efforts must be complemented by parents and the wider community.
The survey of 39 post-primary schools looked at the type and range of food provided.
It found that almost 70pc of schools also offered hot snacks at break times including sausage rolls, pizza slices and paninis, many of which are high in fat and salt.
According to the Irish Heart Foundation, there is a 'free for all' approach to food provision at second-level because unlike primary schools at post primary there is no national standard in this area.
"The schools are totally disillusioned.
"They have received no notional guidelines, no standards on food provision from the government," said Ms Shanley. "Our key recommendation for all schools across Ireland is that there would be no availability whatsoever of high sugar, high fat foods. There is too much temptation.
"In the adult world when you put out high fat, high sugar foods, it is seen as too much temptation. How can we expect teenagers to be able to say no?
"We need a radical approach to avoid our teens becoming part of this crisis."
Meanwhile, Ireland is on course to become the most obese country in Europe, according to the latest figures from World Health Organisation (WHO) experts.
While, in a separate study carried out at the Centre for Preventive Medicine at DCU, researchers found that Irish teenagers as young as 15 years of age are showing signs of early onset heart disease.