As children across the UK settle back into school, a new online survey from the BMA reveals that the majority of parents (77 per cent) back calls to ensure food served at academies and free schools meets the same healthy standard as other state schools.
Despite strict food regulations for local authority schools in England, more than 3,500 academies and 200 free schools do not have to meet the same standards, raising concerns that children in these schools are more likely to be served poorer quality food.
In the survey of 2,000 parents of children aged four to 16 across the UK, eight out of 10 (79 per cent) also support calls for a free, daily piece of fruit or vegetable to be provided to UK school children up to the age of 114.
This comes amid accusations of a government U-turn over plans to tackle obesity, and as the government cuts another £200 million from the public health budget which will undermine efforts to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing.
The survey follows the recent publication of the BMA’s ‘Food for Thought’5 report , which also included recommendations to prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food and drink in schools, and called for local authorities to work with schools to promote healthier diets.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Sheila Hollins, BMA board of science chair, said:
“Doctors are increasingly concerned about the impact of poor diet; a significant cause of ill health, leading to around 70,000 deaths annually and costing the NHS £6 billion every year.
“It’s incredibly concerning that a third of UK children leave primary school overweight or obese. Eating a balanced, healthy school meal helps pupils to learn, improves their academic performance, and uses the closed school environment to promote healthy behaviours in young people.
“Worryingly, other research suggests that pupils in academy schools may be consuming significantly higher levels of fat, calories and saturated fatty acids, compared to those at other state schools, highlighting the importance of a whole-school approach to promoting healthy diets, with food standards an important aspect of this.
"We also know that the majority of people in the UK, particularly low income households, are not consuming enough fruit and vegetables, so providing them free to primary school children across the UK is an important way to support healthier diets.”