Bolder approach needed to improve school meals, dentists say

Dentists want school meals to be improved to reduce sugar (Chris Radburn/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

School meals should be improved to cut excess sugar and encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables, leading dentists have said.

Dentists are calling for a “bolder approach” from the Scottish Government to give young children the healthiest possible start in life.

The Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow has called for action in its response to a Scottish Government consultation on the nutritional requirements for food and drink in schools.

It said that currently around a third of children suffer from dental decay while three in 10 (29%) of children are overweight or obese.

The faculty wants to see puddings taken off school lunch menus and replaced with soup or fruit, and is opposed to the idea of including sugar free drinks on the list of permitted drinks for secondary school.

Faculty Dean Professor Graham Ogden said: “We fully support the positive intention of these proposed regulations, but we feel that the Scottish Government should take a bolder approach if it’s to ensure that our young people have the healthiest possible start in life.

“For example, we all agree that children should have greater access to more fruit and vegetables as part of their school day, but increasing access does not necessarily increase consumption.

“The guidance must include an evidence based plan to ensure any increase in provision also ensures that our young people consume larger amounts of healthier food during school meals.

“In addition, our membership also welcome the intention to reduce the free sugar content of school meals. However, we totally oppose the inclusion of sugar free drinks on the list of permitted drinks for secondary school as this could see the reintroduction of diet fizzy drinks.

“This intention is a mistake and we suggest that it must not be permitted. Some will argue sugar free is a harm reduction approach, but it has all of the well-known disadvantages of that tactic.

“We also know that diet drinks cause dental erosion, in addition to being a gateway to sugar. We should aim to ensure that our children’s oral health gets off to the best possible start in life.”

The faculty, which represents more than 1,000 dentists and trainees, also calls for action to ensure that all children and young people have access to facilities in schools to brush their teeth after meals.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the faculty’s comments to our consultation, which we will carefully consider along with the many other responses we received to make school food and drink healthier using the latest scientific and expert advice.

“We want to make sure every pupil is equipped with the skills, knowledge and experience they need to make better health choices and live longer, healthier lives.

“This commitment is supported by a package of measures including Curriculum for Excellence and Better Eating, Better Learning.

“Schools have a key role to play but it is vital that we all provide consistent messages to children and young people as they learn how to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.”