Lunchtime Lockdown

29 03 2008

Every day we hear about the rising obesity epidemic, especially amongst children, and how we must do all we can to combat it. Of course I’ve long said that the problem rests with parents, as with so many things, who seem unwilling to say the word “no”. If their kids whine for the latest violent video game, they’ll get it. Likewise fast food, if they ask for it they’ll get it.

However I do agree that schools can do a lot, and ought to do what they can. They’ve already begun, by having far healthier menus in the school canteens, but that’s no use if they’re being challenged by fast food outlets. I know from experience that there are plenty of fast food outlets near my old school, plenty of which especially do target the kids with their menus. Something has to be done to remove the temptation.

Especially when the parents themselves are showing such a lack of responsibility that they actively encourage their kids to eat junk food rather than choosing healthy options. Mothers of children at a South Yorkshire school fed their kids junk food through the fence because “there’s not enough choice” (whatever happened to kids eating what they’re given or doing without?). As I said at the start, parental responsibility is key.

Worse, in many ways, are the teachers who complain about who’s going to supervise the children. Forgive me but I thought that was part of the teacher’s job, to supervise the kids during school hours. If they’re not supervising the kids already I’d suggest several million parents ought to be worried. Some teachers have complained that lunchtime is their only time “off”. That’s rubbish. I’ve worked in a school, and trust me, they spend plenty of time sat around in the staff room. Not to mention the months of holidays.

We’ve been told that it would be hard to enforce, yet I don’t see how it could be any harder to enforce than school uniforms which many schools manage to successfully enforce every day. I’ve heard all sorts of criticisms, ranging from how this infringes the Human Rights of the children (and forcing them to go to school doesn’t?) to what about kids who can’t eat certain foods for health or religious reasons. Presumably schools would be open to adapting the menu for kids with special needs, so long as what was used to replace the offending food item was equally as healthy. Problem solved.

In an effort to undermine the idea comparisons to a similar effort in California have been made but the obesity problem in the US is far more severe than it is in the UK, so I think it’s a false comparison. Equally, I think the ban is in its infancy there, and crucially is clearly not being supported by the parents. What I find somewhat strange in that is that California has a reputation as the most health-conscious of the US states.

Opponents of the ban say we need to win the hearts and minds of the children. What is it with the rise in that abominable phrase since the Iraq war? No, kids are stupid, they lack both hearts and minds and must be forced to do what’s good for them. Or shall we make school attendance optional and win their hearts and minds there too?

A ban on leaving school at lunchtime is not only a great idea from the perspective of teenage obesity, it’s also a great idea from the perspective of safety. If the kids are in school, the parents know where they are at all times, and there’s a lot less risk from outside influences, be it drug dealers or paedophiles. To criticise this proposed ban whilst harping on about video games and internet safety would seem to be hypocrisy.

What do you think, should kids be allowed to leave school at lunchtime?


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