Experts caution ministers over double blow to children’s diets

16 September 2010

Experts today warn that government cuts to the Change4Life campaign and school meals threaten children’s health, and run counter to the Prime Minister’s pre-election pledge to address the commercialisation of childhood.

Writing in Food Ethics magazine, the researchers and campaigners urge ministers to heed the human and economic cost of planned austerity measures.

Dr Helen Crawley, Reader in Nutrition Policy at The Centre for Food Policy, City University, says that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans to rely on the food industry to fund the Change4Life anti-obesity campaign are perverse, and risk going “further, faster, in increasing nutrient insufficiency for many children in England”.

Dr Wendy Wills, who leads the British Sociological Association’s Food Study Group, argues this will exacerbate underlying concerns with the programme: “It is unfair and immoral to target children who don’t have the critical reasoning skills needed to evaluate what adults outside the family are telling or selling them. This becomes even more important when government is planning to hand over campaigns like Change4Life to the private sector.”

Christine Haigh, of the Children’s Food Campaign, says the move creates “a clear conflict of interest” and clashes with David Cameron’s pre-election promise to address the commercialisation of childhood.
Cuts to school meals also prompt concern. According to Haigh: “Within weeks of taking office, the Department for Education had cancelled plans that would have seen free school meals made available to all primary school children living below the poverty line, not just those from out-of-work households. Plans to trial universal free school meals in five local authorities also bit the dust.”

School food budgets are being squeezed across the board explains Matthew Jones, Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Policy at the University of the West of England:

“Local authority school meal providers are being asked to reduce their ingredient spend by up to 10p per child per meal, from an average baseline of 63p. This risks reducing take-up of school meals yet further in a vicious cycle of decline, which will result in perpetual grant dependency or the closure of school meal services beyond statutory free school meal provision.”

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