Saturday, July 11, 2009

British "reforms" see pupils reject school food

The number of children having school meals has stalled after the increase in nutritional standards pioneered by Jamie Oliver, official figures show today. Only a third of secondary age pupils eat a cooked lunch. Participation has decreased ever since the standard of food rose after Oliver’s School Dinners campaign in 2005 which resulted in the banning of Turkey Twizzlers and daily helpings of chips.

The School Food Trust, a government agency responsible for improving the quality and take-up of school meals, claimed a victory because the figures rose marginally when comparing schools that had used exactly the same method of calculation last year. But the figures are an embarrassment for the Government, which pledged three years ago to achieve an increase of 10 percentage points in the number of children eating school meals, by this autumn — a target that has been missed whichever set of data is used.

The School Food Trust claimed this year’s was the first “statistically robust national survey” of school meal take-up, but did not say in previous years that the figures were unreliable. When comparing schools that had collected the figures in the same way year-on-year, it said the number of children eating school meals had risen by 0.1 per cent, from 43.8 per cent to 43.9 per cent at primary level, and from 35.5 per cent to 36 per cent in secondary schools.

But figures from all local authorities that responded show the overall national figures were 39.3 per cent in primary schools, compared with 43.6 per cent last year, and 35.1 per cent at secondary level, compared with 37.2 per cent in 2008. The School Food Trust said that this year's figures had been collected in a different way, so that the years could not be compared.

The Local Authority Caterers’ Association(LACA) described the increase as “marginal”. Neil Porter, its chairman, said: “We recognise that this year we are using a different way to calculate the data on the take-up of school lunches. LACA is encouraged by the apparent marginal upward trend in meal take-up in both primary and secondary schools. “However, we believe that we are on a longer journey when it comes to secondary school students. Increasing secondary meal take-up will continue to be a challenge for all of us.”

It was at a secondary school in South Yorkshire that mothers of pupils took orders from the local fast food shop for pupils at lunchtime, after children refused to eat the new healthy school meals. They were seen pushing burgers, fish and chips through the school gates.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said the figures showed a “massive drop” in the number of children eating school meals, and had missed its target to increase participation by “well over one million children”. He added: “We now know that barely a third of secondary school pupils are eating school meals. “There are a number of reasons why the Government has missed its target — including the rushed introduction of new food standards before the groundwork had been done to ensure children will eat the new healthier option.

“The Government stands little chance in meeting its targets unless there is both more investment in the school meals service and a massive change in expectations, so that sitting down for a proper lunch once again becomes the norm for every child.”

Prue Leith, chairwoman of the School Food Trust, said: “We now have a genuine picture of take-up across the country and we can see that real progress is being made the length and breadth of England. “I am heartened that take-up has increased slightly in primary schools following the introduction of new nutrient-based standards and am convinced we are winning the battle for the hearts, minds and tastebuds of children and parents. “It is particularly pleasing that secondary schools have turned the corner. This has always been a long-term project.”

Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said: “Four years ago, the majority of children were eating unhealthy meals at school. Chips, chocolate and sugar-filled fizzy drinks were available everyday as a choice for school lunch. Today there is no school where this can now happen — all schools must provide a portion of vegetable and fruit as part of a nutritionally balanced main meal. Now millions of children across the country are eating healthy school lunches. “We know that it is often the state of dining facilities and poor organisation, not nutritional changes that put children off schools dinners. That is why we have invested significant funds in improving dining facilities and the School Food Trust is supporting schools to improve the way they organise their meals services.”


Third of women with breast cancer 'don't need treatment'

Clearly, treatment should only be undertaken in most cases after monitoring over time is done -- to disclose whether tumor growth is occurring. But such repeated imaging would be too costly for Britain. Paying the wages of an army of bureaucrats gets first call on the British budget. Because of the high risk of false positives, some authorities even discourage breast self-examination these days -- on the grounds that it does more harm than good

A third of women diagnosed with breast cancer have gone through unnecessary treatments, a study revealed yesterday. Routine breast screening produces a high rate of 'false positives' - because it is not sensitive enough to detect which lumps will lead to dangerous cancers and which will not. This means that thousands of British women have been 'over-diagnosed' - forcing them to endure invasive and painful treatment such as needless mastectomies, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The study showed that in more than a third of cases, lumps which were flagged up as a cause for alarm were harmless - either because the tumour was growing so slowly that the patient would have died of other causes before it produced any symptoms, or because the cancer remained dormant or even regressed.

In an editorial accompanying the research, H Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute in the U.S., said that women needed to be aware of the risks, as well as the benefits, of cancer screening. 'Mammography is one of medicine's "close calls" - a delicate balance between benefits and harms - where different people in the same situation might reasonably make different choices,' he said. 'Mammography undoubtedly helps some women, but hurts others. No right answer exists, instead it is a personal choice.'

Cancer charities were keen last night to stress that routine screening is estimated to save 1,400 lives every year in England alone. All women from 50 to 70 are invited to the checks every three years. Across the UK, more than 45,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and 12,000 die.

Scientists from the Nordic Cochrane Centre, who carried out the study, analysed breast cancer trends seven years before and seven years after the introduction of screening programmes in five countries - the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway. Taking into account other factors, such as changes in background levels of breast cancer, they estimated the level of overdiagnosis as 35 per cent.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the study's authors said: 'Screening for cancer may lead to earlier detection of lethal cancers but also detects harmless ones that will not cause death or symptoms. 'The detection of such cancers... can only be harmful to those who experience it.' They said that perhaps doctors doing the screening should request biopsies only for breast masses larger than a certain size.

Dr Sarah Cant, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'We hope this research will not discourage women from attending breast screening. 'Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to predict which cancers found through screening will develop aggressively and which will grow very slowly. 'Based on all the current evidence, we believe the benefits of detecting breast cancer early still outweigh the risks.'

But good news, death rates at new low The British death rate from three of the most common cancers has fallen to its lowest level in almost 40 years, research has shown. The toll from breast, bowel, and male lung cancer is at its lowest since 1971, an analysis by Cancer Research UK found. This means Britain could be at last turning the tide on its appalling record of cancer survival compared with the rest of Europe. The UK has the worst cancer record in Western Europe. Its survival rates are on a par with Poland and the Czech Republic, even though these countries spend two-thirds less on cancer treatment.

Critics have claimed the UK's poor showing proves that the vast amount of extra funding poured into the NHS by Labour has been wasted - although ministers say the new figures should be a cause for optimism. Breast cancer deaths among women peaked in 1989 at 15,625 but dropped to 11,990 in 2007, according to the data. Bowel cancer deaths among both sexes peaked in 1992 at 19,598, but fell to 16,007 in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of men dying from lung cancer peaked in 1979 at 30,391 but dropped to 19,637 in 2007. The number of people developing cancer is on the rise as we live longer than ever before. But fewer people are dying from the disease - partly due to improved screening and new and better treatments.


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