How to improve the diets of children in primary and secondary education
In Scotland, 26% of children are overweight, with 16% at risk of obesity. These policy recommendations will help to improve on the current shortfall of the means tested system of testing free school meals after P3, as well as improving fruit and vegetable intake.
Selvalakshmi Rabindranath Tagore
In Scotland, 26% of children are overweight, with 16% at risk of obesity (Scottish
Government, 2018). Those from the most deprived socio-economic backgrounds are at greater
risk of suffering from the consequences of health inequalities, primarily obesity. Obesity
increases the risk of a number of health complications such as type 2 diabetes, high blood
pressure and kidney diseases, with estimates of the cost of obesity to the NHS in Scotland being
between £360-600 million annually (Obesity in Scotland, 2016).
The Scottish government has proposed and implemented a number of measures to tackle
the issue of childhood obesity; however, these policies have proven insufficient thus far. The
government currently provides Universal Free School Meals to pupils from Primary 1-3 (Health
Scotland, 2021) i.e. between the ages of 5 and 7, which has been shown to improve nutrition
(IRIS, 2021), reduce obesity (Vik et al, 2019) and even increase attainment levels (Gordon,
2018). During the Scottish election campaign, the incumbent Scottish National Party government
pledged to extend free school meals to encompass all primary school students (BBC, 2020). In
addition, their 2018 publication ‘A Healthier Future: Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight
Delivery Plan’ focused on ways to change the food environment in Scotland to promote more
healthy relationships with food (Scottish Government, 2018b). This included a proposal to
increase restrictions on the advertisement of ‘HFSS foods’ (‘High in Fat, Sugar or Salt food and
drink’) while also acknowledging the importance of early interventions to develop healthy habits
and reduce health inequalities in children, with the amount of sugar highlighted as a significant
dietary issue. (ibid; Parnell et al, 2018).
To address these issues, this paper argues for the following policy recommendations to be
implemented by the Scottish Government:
1. An extension of the free school meals programme with universal free school
meals being available, at a minimum, for those in compulsory full-time education.
2. Healthy fruits to be provided at no extra cost to students in primary schools as an
alternative to the usually available sugary, high in trans-fat snacks.
3. Following the success of the “Water Only Schools” policy in England, funding to be
provided for the trial of the same program within Scottish schools where plain water and reduced
fat milk will be the only allowed beverages in school.