Wales

School meals 'leave kids hungry' in Wales obesity fight

  • 19 December 2013
  • From the section Wales

Many schools in Wales have clamped down on lunch second helpings for pupils in the fight against child obesity.

A BBC Wales survey has found a number of councils now leave the decision on extra servings to schools or caterers.

Powys bans pudding as seconds, Cardiff schools are urged to offer only extra bread, and Ceredigion extras are small, bringing complaints from hungry pupils.

But the Welsh government says it would never want children left hungry, and it will issue new guidance next year.

BBC Wales asked education authorities about school meals, and 18 of the 22 responded. But while all said children are still allowed to ask for seconds, they may get a different response depending on where they live.

Powys Council says its cooks must use their "discretion" when offering extra food, and while its schools are allowed to serve any leftover vegetables and bread, puddings as seconds are off the menu. Powys also says catering managers advise cooks and rely on their "discretion and understanding".

But some pupils and parents have complained about these restrictions, which follow the adoption of the Welsh government's Appetite for Life programme, which aims to raise nutritional standards and help tackle childhood obesity.

There have also been complaints about the size of portions for primary school pupils. They have protested that 10-11-year-olds will need more food than a four-year-old.

Figures from earlier this year show more than 28% of five-year-olds in Wales are overweight, with 12.5% of children classed as obese. Wales has a bigger problem than either England or Scotland.

The standards have been in force in primary schools since September 2012, and were introduced across secondary schools at the start of this term.

One Welsh assembly member from Powys is so concerned he carried out his own survey of the county's primary schools. Russell George says only one school which responded to his letter said it was satisfied with the current meals policy.

Mr George says most schools also have concerns about portion size, "with many older children complaining that they remained hungry following their school meal".

The Montgomeryshire Conservative AM says one school did its own survey of parents: 67% said portions were too small, almost all - 93% - wanted their children to have seconds, and 10% stopped using school meals because of portion sizes.

Mr George is urging a "common sense" approach to meals in primary schools.

Education Minister Huw Lewis has echoed those words and wants "a large dose of common sense" to be used in interpreting the guidelines.

He told AMs last month the guidelines are flexible and "offer a proper nutritional balance for our young people, and that is something that we have been working towards for a long time, and now we have it. So, the guidelines matter but so does common sense".

In response to BBC Wales' findings, a Welsh government spokesperson said: "We would never want to see children having school meals going hungry.

"We have provided schools with suggested portion sizes which cater for changing nutritional requirements as children get older. So, for example, a child in year 6 would have a larger portion than a child in reception."

"Local authorities and many schools have worked hard over the years to improve the quality of food and drink provided in schools, in line with the Appetite for Life recommended standards.

"However, in the absence of legislation, there has been a variable rollout across schools. As a consequence, not all schools were achieving the recommended standards. The Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations now require compliance by schools; giving children and young people a healthy balance of food and drink throughout the entire school day.

"Statutory guidance on the Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations is currently being prepared and will be issued in the new year."

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