Irish Heart Foundation calls for nationwide ban on junk food in Irish schools
Most secondary schools are serving up unhealthy junk food, such as pizza, sausage rolls and chocolate, to pupils.
The Irish Heart Foundation has called for a nationwide ban on sales of junk food in secondary schools after its survey found that despite Ireland's obesity crisis, most schools offer foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt.
Two-thirds of schools offered hot snacks, such as sausage rolls and pizza slices which are high in fat and salt, while 51pc offered snacks such as sweets, crisps, chocolate, cereal bars, scones, buns and cakes, and 47pc had vending machines.
Meanwhile, only 37pc of schools provided full hot meals, such as meat, vegetables and potatoes or casseroles, and a similar number offered sandwiches and cold snacks such as fruit, yoghurts and salads.
And only 60pc of schools offered a free water service to students, despite the importance of staying hydrated.
The survey of 39 secondary schools nationwide included a wide range of school types, including 12 disadvantaged (DEIS) schools and five fee-paying ones.
IHF dietitian Sinead Shanley, who carried out the study, said that Ireland had an obesity epidemic with as many as one in five teenagers obese or overweight.
"Yet despite calls to improve the availability of healthier food in schools, our survey shows the opposite - that instead of enjoying a protected environment at school, Irish teenage students are faced every day with unhealthy foods, low in nutrition and high in calories," she said.
It was also crucial that young people had nutritious food that kept their organs and body systems healthy.
"We know that 20pc of 13 to 17-year-olds have diets high in sugar, and diets that are low in fibre, calcium, iron, folate and vitamin D, many of which are essential for growth, development and protection against heart disease."
The IHF criticised the "free for all" approach to food provision at second level, unlike primary schools where there were healthy eating policies.
It called on the Department of Education to publish a healthy food policy stipulating that no junk food should be sold in schools and ensuring free drinking water is available to all pupils.
The Department of Education said its latest data for 2012 indicated secondary schools with vending machines had fallen to 30pc and, together with the Department of Health and the HSE, it was drawing up new guidance on promoting healthy lifestyles, including appropriate use of vending machines.