Tuesday 13 November 2018

Vending machines selling unhealthy drinks and snacks should be banned from schools - report

A vending machine (Ben Birchall/PA)
A vending machine (Ben Birchall/PA)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Vending machines selling unhealthy drinks and snacks should be banned from schools in the interest of tackling the problem of childhood obesity, the Oireachtas Education Committee recommends in a new report.

Nor should unhealthy foods and drinks be available for sale in school canteens/shops, the committee states.

Almost one in three Irish children were overweight in 2016, and about one in 10 were deemed obese. 

There was a 10-fold increase in the rate of obesity among Irish boys between 1975-2016 and a nine-fold increase among girls.

The committee says that tackling the obesity issue is not only the responsibility of parents, but that schools should must also take more measures to promote healthy lifestyles and nutrition.

The report makes a range of recommendations including freely available fresh drinking water in schools and greater access to physical education (PE).

Committee chair, Fiona O’Loughlin TD, said they were gravely concerned about the  prevalence of childhood obesity in Ireland and the potential for a future health epidemic.

“With this in mind, we decided to focus on producing a report that would make practical recommendations that could be incorporated in the Government’s plans for tackling childhood obesity.”

She said the  committee hoped that its report would  inform the Minister for Education’s policy development in this area “and we look forward to seeing the implementation of some or all of our recommendations”.

In its submission  to the Oireachtas Educaton Committee on how tackle the to obesity issue, the Irish Heart Foundation pointed to  a 2015 survey showing one in four post-primary  schools having a vending  machine selling junk food .

Vending machines are regarded as an important source of revenue for schools and previous calls to have them banned have been ruled out.

Last year, Education Minister Richard Bruton said he had no intention of legislating on the issue.

He said he did “not have the authority to dictate to schools in this manner. Schools are generally privately managed institutions which, although largely funded by the State, are relatively autonomous.

Other recommendations in the report on tackling of obesity and the promotion of healthy eating in schools include:

*consideration to be given to exploring the possibility that the revenue generated from the sugar tax to be used for initiatives that aim to promote a healthy weight and an active lifestyle for all;

* break times to be targeted to promote increased activity in children and that the provision of fixed playgrounds in primary schools where possible;

* schools without access to physical education facilities should be prioritised under the school building programme so that the roll-out of physical education as an examinable subject to all post-primary students can be facilitated;

* where possible, lands and green spaces should be protected for schools’ use for sports and exercise, and the construction of playgrounds, gyms and other exercise facilities.

 

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