Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Queensland (Australia) kids defy "junk food" ban

This is the junk food rush -- the early-morning and lunchtime fast food fix that makes a mockery of new healthy eating laws at school canteens. As these pictures show, students are lining up before class and during their lunch breaks to feast on fatty fast foods.

Parents say the queues are getting longer as students openly rebel against the healthy menus forced on school tuckshops. ``I saw these kids walking back with bottles of Coke and hot chips. Their parents have dropped them off, giving them lunch money for the tuckshop and now they probably don't have enough to buy it because they bought junk,'' a Gold Coast mother told The Sunday Mail.

Defiant students say the State Government's ban on the sale of junk food in tuckshops will not change their eating habits. ``The attitude is `Who cares?' A lot of people will still go down to Woolies and Maccas and get their stuff there,'' a student said.

Leading nutritionist Michael Georgalli predicted more students would rebel against the Healthy Choices program as it was rolled out across the state. He warned the ban on junk foods would ``fuel the obesity epidemic'' instead of helping students adopt healthier eating habits. ``The process of restriction has been shown to encourage the uptake of the very behaviours that one is attempting to avoid in children,'' he said. Research produced for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found restricting children's access to certain foods may ``actually promote the very behaviour its use is intended to reduce''. Mr Georgalli said the banning of junk foods at tuckshops could also lead to serious safety concerns. ``These restrictions can lead to children leaving the school grounds and crossing dangerous roads,'' he said.

Confectionery manufacturers argue the ``prohibitionist stance'' on so-called treat foods will fail. They support children having access to all foods so they learn good nutrition from making responsible choices. ``From our point of view, we believe there should be the sale of good nutritious food in canteens and that confectionery is a treat food which shouldn't be seen as a form of meal replacement,'' Confectionary Manufacturers of Australasia chief executive officer David Greenwood said. He said the move to control what food was eaten by students might work at primary schools but not at high schools. ``While this may appear to be a good idea on the surface, it is unlikely to control the eating of older students,'' Mr Greenwood said. ``High school students often have access to their own funds and can purchase foods outside of school grounds. ``Some may even purchase treat foods and then sell them to other students, depriving the canteen and the school of funds.''

The changes to tuckshop menus have also sparked reports of canteen workers resigning in protest. Staff have also been upset by the more labour-intensive preparation of food and greater spoilage required to meet the new rules. Queensland Association of School Tuckshops project officer Chris Ogden confirmed that ``early on there were some complaints''. ``If some have left, to be honest, it's probably better that they did. You're a tuckshop convenor because you care about children's health,'' Ms Ogden said. ``If you're not prepared to make the changes then maybe you're better off looking for alternate employment.''

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 28, 2006

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