Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Controlling obesity beyond the school gate?

Guest Blog: Dr Wendy Wills, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care

Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles at
Almost a third of children and young people in Scotland are thought to be overweight or obese.  The Scottish Government is committed to addressing this issue and has published an Obesity Route Map Action Plan.  The Action Plan includes an aim to investigate young people’s access to food and drink, particularly energy-dense foods and drinks, sold in the vicinity of schools.  Such foods and drinks are a potential contributor to less healthy eating habits, which often underpin overweight and obesity.

Food served in Scottish schools is regulated under the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008 but there is currently no additional regulation on the food and drink available ‘beyond the school gate’.  Around two thirds of secondary school children buy food or drink from places outside school at lunchtime – often this is confectionery and sugar-containing soft drinks.

Young people attending schools in more deprived areas are more likely to walk or cycle past places selling food and drink than those walking or cycling in more affluent areas; young people from poorer areas are also more likely to purchase food and drink outside school at lunchtime.  There is clearly a complex relationship between the food environment, socio-economic deprivation and what young people at secondary school might buy and consume.

New research, funded by the Food Standards Agency in Scotland, will investigate in more detail how the food environment and deprivation around schools influences the food and drink bought by teenagers at lunchtime.  This could help shape policy about food retailing around schools and also, importantly, help retailers and catering outlets to take responsibility for the food and drink that they market to young people in Scotland.

See related entries on the research blog Children in Scotland are still eating too much sugar and Children’s “healthy” foods marketed at children are higher in fat, sugar and salt .

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