Stephen Jardine: Confessions of a chubby child

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow

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I WAS a chubby child. Having a mum who was a great cook and a brilliant home baker was part of the problem.

The other issue was how I spent my lunchtimes.

Within waddling distance of my school in Dumfries I had the choice of a fish and chip shop, a greasy spoon café and a bakers specialising in Scotch pies. With a big appetite, it was a recipe for a tight school uniform.

I’ve spent the years since shedding that extra weight but if I was still at school Dumfries today, I would have plenty of company in the queue for sausage rolls.

Earlier this week Dumfries and Galloway’s education committee received a report suggesting more than a quarter of the region’s children were at risk of being overweight or obese.

Councillors also learned that a third of local pupils consume junk food during school hours and all the research suggests the problem isn’t confined to the south-west.

A recent YoungScot survey discovered that more than 70 per cent of respondents can access at least four food outlets in the immediate vicinity of their school. That would not be issue if the options on offer were nutritious and healthy but usually the opposite is the case. Research shows only 13 per cent of 12-15 year olds are getting their recommended five a day fruit and vegetables so something needs to change. For the past year the focus has been on the government’s Beyond The School Gates inititiative.

It aims to get children to eat more healthily by advising schools on how they can encourage children to stay on site as well as giving shops and convenience stores useful tips on increasing the sales of non-junk food. But alongside the carrots, there is a big stick and that is what the councillors in Dumfries and Galloway are considering.

All Scotland’s 32 local authorities have the means to limit what can be sold to schoolchildren at lunchtime using licensing legislation.

Councils are responsible for licensing street traders and that means they can impose restrictions to stop them operating within a certain radius of schools. On top of that, planning, trading standards and food hygiene legislation also offer ways to regulate what takes place in the food environment around schools.

Despite that, so far only 14 of Scotland’s local authorities have chosen to act but Dumfries and Galloway could be the next to join the list.

Good food education is essential. We need to show young people why they will live longer, healthier and happier lives if they make the right food and drink choices. And we have to help retailers understand the vital role they play making this a good food nation.

But for those who choose not to care, we need to make it hard for them to do business.

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