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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Should junk food be banned in schools?
Banning young children from eating crisps and chocolate in school will encourage junk food binges when they get home, says a food expert.

The warning comes in response to newspaper reports that a Surrey primary school has banned pupils from bringing crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets into school.

Dr Dee Dawson, of the Rhodes Farm Clinic for eating disorders says emphasising the "naughtiness" of certain foods will make children more attracted to them.

Children's lack of exercise in being driven to school and sitting down playing computer games affects obesity more than what they eat, she added.

Is a ban on chocolate and crisps from the lunchboxes the best way to teach children how to eat well?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Healthy foods often seem to be overpriced

Anthony, Germany (UK)
Why not increase VAT on unhealthy snacks such as biscuits, chocolate, sweets, crisps, soft drinks, etc. One of the problems is that many of these foods are incredibly cheap when compared to the price of fresh fruit, for example. Healthy foods often seem to be overpriced and aimed at wealthier consumers. Maybe the Government should have a word with the food producers!
Anthony, Germany (UK)

If children are taught at an early age how to look after their bodies properly, eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise, the savings are huge in the long run. Not only that, studies have shown that a balanced lifestyle aids the academic aspect of school as well (the reason why kids go to school). Everything you eat is good for you, but in moderation.
William, Australia

I am a teacher in the United States and I have noticed how candy and other junk foods can make children overly hyper during class. With so much concern for children's health and overweight children, a ban would help to encourage healthy eating practices. I'm all for this idea.
Ari, USA

Banning junk food in schools is dangerous. Labelling foods as 'forbidden' is just priming our children to develop eating disorders. We should teach our children to make educated and relaxed choices about the food they eat. What children need is more daily exercise like walking to school.
Lisa, UK

Contributors to this page who suggest schools should not have opinions on what kids eat would probably benefit from returning to education themselves. Do they really think education authorities don't get to see the worrying increase in junk-food consumption by school children - and the associated behavioural problems and childhood obesity?
Richard, UK

I think it's an excellent idea. However, the ban should be accompanied by some information for the parents as to why and what they, as parents, can do to help their children eat a better diet - for example, limit the intake of these foods at home as well. Only when schools and parents work together will it really have an effect. Children do listen to their parents and do look at their peers and teachers for guidance, and do not necessarily do whatever they want anyway. I think that is a weak cop-out from those responsible for children, mainly adults.
Victor D., Amsterdam, the Netherlands

If you want to curb something - tax it.

Vicki, England
Obesity-related disorders are now costing the NHS as much if not more than smoking. Would parents defend the right of their kids to smoke in school? I say, let parents feed junk food to their children if they must, but it should have the same level of tax imposed as cigarettes. Forget laws and bans - if you want to curb something - tax it.
Vicki, England

What a naff idea. By all means educate and cajole people into healthy eating but a ban on junk food is both unworkable and a prime example of authority overstepping its remit. They could take a decision not to sell junk food on the school premises and prevent junk food vans from plying a trade outside the school gate though.
Phil, UK

When I have children, I'd be more likely to send them to a school where junk food is banned than to a school where it is not. And it isn't fascism to counter the unhealthy advertising of fast food producers.
Richard N, UK

Maybe the government will next introduce a law enabling it to fine or jail parents who do not send their kids to school with "politically correct" food. And you dare criticise Euro-rules!
Claude, Belgium

Depriving children of junk food in school may be acceptable in the UK but it will never fly in the US. Sitting in front of a television for hours on end every day while eating America's favourite flavours sugar, salt, and fat and becoming lazy and obese is part of our modern heritage. Working at coronary heart disease takes a lifetime and requires training from an early age. No, it won't fly here, not at all.
Mark, USA

This must be a joke, I give my daughter a packed lunch so that she will have a healthy meal. Since school dinners have become a commercial opportunity rather than an attempt to give the kids a balanced diet the option seems to be Pizza, chips, burgers etc. every day. It would be the height of hypocrisy to enforce rules on packed lunches without first restoring the rules enforcing nutritional value in the school dinners. Maybe I should come to school and "confiscate" the crisps, chips etc. eaten by the kids who have school dinners!
Chris Q, England

As a parent of a three year old who has been fed a wide variety of foods since starting on solids, I wholeheartedly agree with this. My son will never "binge on junk food" when he gets home, because there isn't any in our house as my wife and I lead by example by only snacking on fruit while he is awake. It is unfortunate that Andy H. feels intimidated by these proposals, but if he feeds his children properly, then he should have nothing to worry about.

Obesity in children is a massive problem these days and any attempts to combat this, no matter how draconian should be welcomed. Just as some parents do not raise their children properly, some parents do not feed their children properly. However, I would like to see television companies take responsibility as well by banning advertisements for junk food during children's television programmes.
Phil, UK

Good idea but it would be pointless banning all junk food in schools. You only have to survey others baskets in the supermarket to see the amount of junk food purchased for the home. I am yet to see a trolley full of healthy foods. There is usually a shop nearby schools anyway so kids will only visit there to purchase junk.
Sarah, UK

Obviously you can't ban people from eating what they want from their own lunchbox, but more effort is needed to persuade parents to give their kids a proper healthy diet. It seems many just can't be bothered.
Lee R, UK

One minute people complain about the obesity and heart disease problem in Britain, a possible solution has been put forward. Lo and behold people are still complaining. It's all well and good that adults are free to put whatever kind of processed high fat foods they want into themselves, but children should be educated on how to eat properly. Unfortunately there are a high number of children who are fed poorly at school and at home. It is no secret that a balanced diet prevents obesity and heart disease, even diabetes. We should take steps to ensure that our children are aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. One only need look across the Channel to see the difference!
D Walton, UK

Mothers need to make more of an effort with regard to what their children eat - it seems that many have simply given up even cooking proper meals nowadays - and will give their children junk food because it is easier than cooking - sad.
Tez, England

I doubt whether a ban would be of any use. Why is it that schools are supposed to solve all problems? Home is where the real action takes place alongside kids mixing with their peers. I fear that the British attitude to food is getting worse and worse. The "get it down ya" approach rules. We would do better to emulate the French and make quality food and quality eating time one of our highest national priorities. Food is more essential to life than mobile phones and such, isn't it, or am I just "out of touch" and have the wrong "lifestyle"?
Paul Bridle, UK

During World War 2 sugar was rationed. As a result levels of tooth decay, diabetes and hypoglycaemia decreased. When rationing stopped tooth decay, diabetes and hypoglycaemia increased. Yes, chocolate and sweets should be banned. There is a ban on smoking so why not sugar?
David Furness, Northolt, England

Definitely junk food should be banned. At the very least it should not be sold at school. This is no more unreasonable than expecting a minimum standard in terms of appearance, uniform, behaviour etc. However, the onus is on schools and LEAs to provide (i.e. subsidise) nutritious food that tastes good! On the pathetic budgets they presently allow this is unachievable.
Helen, UK

It would probably help if children were taught exactly why the rules are put in place

Zoe, Canada
For a ban on junk food to be effective, school staff and parents would have to cooperate, and it would probably help if children were taught exactly why the rules are put in place. But at the end of the day, if their parents feed them junk food at home, children will not grow up with a taste for fresh fruit, vegetables and wholefoods, and as soon as they can choose their own food they will eat what they like.
Zoe, Canada (British)

If children are to be persuaded away from junk food then they need a better alternative both at home and at school. How many parents or school canteens regularly serve up exciting, healthy food that children really like and make meal times something to look forward to?
S. Dynan, UK

A message to Andy H. If you don't feed your children properly then society has to foot the NHS bill when they grow up to be obese with diabetes and heart problems. Good diet starts in the home. I ate sweets during the day at school but at home my mother always provided a healthy balanced diet. Although I didn't know it at the time - I just ate whatever she gave me. Too often today you see grossly overweight 10 year olds and then when you look at their parents they're obese as well.
D Williams, UK

Re. "Andy H, England" and associates: schools are perfectly entitled to tell you what items are allowed onto school property - food or otherwise - in the same way that they are entitled to set the rules for uniforms, jewellery, haircuts or whatever. We receive a letter at the start of the school year saying which foods are not allowed. This is nothing to do with "healthy eating" and everything to do with reducing the mess created at lunchtime: fizzy drinks that are shaken up prior to opening, sticky sweets, melting chocolate. If you would commit to being present at all mealtimes to clean up their fallout zone, maybe the school would take a different view (or maybe you would).

Alternatively, you may be one of the people who don't believe in any rules whatsoever (no knives, no shaved heads) and allow your children to do whatever they want, whenever they want. In which case, feel free to take your offspring somewhere else as their presence would not be desirable amongst civilised people.
Frank, England

A message to schools and councils. Don't tell me how to feed my children. Most certainly do not threaten to confiscate my kids' food. Stalin would have been proud.
Andy H, England

A more sensible approach would be to sell healthier snacks

Peter, Scotland
A total ban on junk food seems very draconian and unenforceable, and children would find ways to hide it. A more sensible approach would be to sell healthier snacks, such as fruit, energy bars, milk, low fat crisps etc cheaply in the tuck-shop. The problem of fizzy drinks, the main culprit of tooth decay, could be solved by bringing back free milk for all primary school children, which would provide the additional benefit of calcium.
Peter, Scotland

It's not new, we tried it when I was teaching in Surrey thirty years ago, but then we had 'nutritious' but rather nasty school dinners. Now schools are fed by outside caterers, and as soon as you give children choice they go for the things you don't want them to eat. These firms know that, and so want to be able to sell sweets, crisps and pop to make a profit. There is no fairness in banning children from bringing junk from home just to buy it from the dinner ladies! If the head has managed to persuade the outside caterers not to provide their top selling items, then he has done very well!
Lesley, UK

I think that banning chocolate, crisps, sweets etc, might improve some children's behaviour as they won't have the countless E-numbers in their bodies.
Helen, UK

This will simply increase the burden on teachers

Luke, England
This is nothing new. Foods like this were banned in my school in Hertfordshire 15 years ago - although I think this was more to do with the squirrels emptying rubbish out of the bins than a desire for healthy eating (oranges were also banned for the same reason!). However, one point that very clearly came out of the exercise, evidenced by the fact that we all carried on eating what we liked, is that only parents can really determine what their children eat for lunch. This will simply increase the burden on teachers by giving a new rule that they have no hope of enforcing.
Luke, England

I'd like to have a ban on people banning things. This sort of action by schools is highly offensive. What are they going to do, make all the pupils get their lunchbox contents vetted by the food police every day?
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

It might help if schools directed their efforts towards ensuring that their pupils are able to read and write rather than dictating what they have for lunch. I know the purpose of the state education system is to ensure we turn out nice batches of brainwashed gullible model workers but surely they can be allowed to choose what they have in their lunchboxes, or does that now require a government committee as well?
Simon Moore, UK

See also:

08 Jul 02 | UK Education
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