Ban on ice-cream and burger vans within 500 metres of schools

BURGER and ice-cream vans are to be banned from outside school gates in a bid to tackle childhood obesity.

The move by Renfrewshire Council is the latest attempt by local authorities to prevent pupils from eating junk food.

They are making changes to street traders' licences that will allow restrictions on the sale of food and drink within 500 metres of the 51 primary schools and 11 secondary schools in the area.

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The changes will not apply to existing licenses, but can be applied to new licenses.

Bill Perrie, convener of the licensing board, said: "There's growing recognition that the increased rate of obesity in children, and the poor nutritional value of many of the snacks and fast food which they consume, can have serious health consequences later in life.

"We feel this new policy strikes a balance between allowing fast-food operators or ice-cream vans to continue to ply their trade without necessarily allowing them a prime position next to schools."

Last year it emerged that Scotland was the second fattest nation in the developed world, behind only the United States .

There are 116 street-trader licences in Renfrewshire for selling food – 55 for ice-cream vans and 61 for general food such as burgers - that outline the area in which each licensee can trade.

The move has been backed by the local health board. Linda de Caestecker, director of public health of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said one in five primary one children was overweight in Renfrewshire health reviews last year.

She said: "Restricting the sale of fast foods near schools will further enhance the work both ourselves and Renfrewshire Council are doing to improve children's diets."

However, van traders said they were being unfairly targeted and that their livelihoods were under threat. Andrew Caldwell, Scottish representative on the board of the Ice-Cream Alliance, said mobile vendors were a soft target.

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He said: "Obesity doesn't start at the school gates, it starts in the home and ice-cream has existed far longer than the current obesity problem has. I feel sorry for families who have had a van for 30-40 years and sell quality ice-cream. Are the councils going to close every chip shop and sweet shop in the UK? It is crazy."

One Renfrewshire vendor, who asked not to be named, said the move would make little difference. "If the van's not there, kids will just walk to the shop. If they want sweets and chips they will get them somehow. Five hundred metres is a large area and there can be a lot of shops within that – this move will give them unfair advantage."

Figures from the Information Services Division Scotland showed that 20 per cent of Renfrewshire primary ones in 2006-7 were overweight; 8 per cent were obese and 4.6 per cent severely obese.

Last summer Falkirk Council changed its licensing guidelines to stop vans selling junk food parking near schools. This placed a 500-metre exclusion area around schools during term time at 12-2pm and 3-5pm.

But a council spokeswoman confirmed the changes had not yet been implemented.

The Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We know that food vans are an issue for some schools and councils.

"Some councils have already begun taking steps to prevent chip vans from trading near schools during lunchtime and we'd encourage other councils to look at this best practice and make best use of the current rules and regulations."