Top dentists call for action on school meals in Scotland
Call to take unhealthy puddings off the lunchtime menu and offer pupils more fruit and vegetables
THE lunchtime menu in Scottish schools should be improved to reduce excess sugar and ensure children and young people eat more fruit and vegetables, according to the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
The call comes in the Faculty’s submission to the Scottish Government’s national consultation on the nutritional requirements for food and drink in schools, which closed in August.
The Faculty, which represents more than 1,000 dentists and trainees, called for schools to take unhealthy puddings off their lunchtime menus and instead offer pupils a healthier choice of soup or fruit.
The government should take a bolder approach if it’s to ensure that our young people have the healthiest possible start in life
Publishing the submission to the consultation, Faculty Dean Professor Graham Ogden welcomed the overall process, but he called for a bolder approach from the Scottish Government. Professor 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.
“Our membership also welcomes 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’s submission also calls for action to ensure that all children and young people have access to facilities in schools to brush their teeth after meals.
Professor Ogden added: “Although this consultation only covers nutrient and food and drink standards, we would urge the Scottish Government to ensure that other factors involved in school meals that could influence a long term shift in food culture and improve children’s food choices and health are also addressed.
“Childsmile primary schools already provide excellent facilities where pupils can brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste after eating school meals, and so we feel that this approach should be available more widely. We also need to take tangible steps to empower schoolchildren so that they are fully engaged in the process of improving the nutritional quality of school meals themselves.
“Around a third of Scottish children currently suffer from dental decay. That’s why we need to take action now. This consultation process is a good start by the Scottish Government, but it doesn’t go far enough if we’re to effectively tackle this serious problem.”