There is a broad consensus in Scotland on the need to inspire healthier diets, particularly amongst our children and young people. Establishing healthy eating habits at a young age is hugely important knowing that the behaviours we develop in childhood can last a lifetime and continue to influence the food choices we make as adults.
We recognise that the food choices children and young people make throughout the school day can have a considerable influence on their overall diet. Over the past 10 years, much has been done to ensure that food provision and food education in schools supports children and young people to eat a healthy balanced diet. However, this is only a part of the solution. With a significant proportion of secondary, and even some primary age pupils, choosing to purchase food from nearby outlets during the school day, the food environment around schools has an equally important role to play in encouraging children and young people to eat a healthy diet.
There is considerable scope for action. This new Beyond the School Gate guidance provides practical advice on how we can work together to positively influence the food environment outside of schools to better support children and young people, and also the wider community, to make healthier choices. It invites partners to consider what more they can do, including how they can encourage children and young people to stay on site during the school day.
Developed by an expert working group, and endorsed by both the Scottish Government and COSLA, this valuable guidance is aimed at partners who can help us support healthier choices both within and outwith school, including local authorities, schools, retailers and caterers. We are encouraged by the innovative and exciting work already going on in different parts of Scotland and our ambition is to see this replicated across the country. However, we recognise that one size does not fit all and that partners need options to support a diverse range of local circumstances.
I strongly believe that children and young people deserve the opportunity to make healthier, more informed choices about the food they consume, regardless of whether they choose to eat inside or outside of school. By working in partnership, I believe that together we can deliver the changes necessary to create a more positive food environment around schools: one where healthy options are readily available and which supports children and young people to develop the habits necessary to help them to lead longer, healthier lives.
Minister for Public Health
Obesity amongst both adults and children continues to be a significant challenge in Scotland. It is therefore vital that we do all we can to support individuals, and in particular our children and young people, to develop healthy eating habits at an early stage.
This document provides a valuable and comprehensive resource for community planning partners to collectively address this issue in local areas where our young people are educated. As such, I very much welcome and commend it.
We have done much to improve school food and drinks provision in recent years, but the environment outside of schools also plays a key role in influencing the food choices children and young people make. It is therefore necessary to broaden the scope of action beyond the school gate and take steps to address the disparity between the food on offer within and outwith schools. In doing so, the aim is to rebalance the proportion of healthier choices available to children and young people, regardless of whether they choose to eat school meals or continue to buy their lunch from outlets in the vicinity of schools. In addition, action could also have a positive impact on the wider community by improving access to healthier choices for everyone and establishing healthier eating habits that will be passed on to future generations. This toolkit is therefore intended as a mechanism to help secure that positive impact by sharing practical experience. It has been developed by a working group that included a range of staff from local government and other partner agencies; this is important as preventing obesity requires action by a range of agencies and has the potential to avoid significant costs to the whole of the public sector. However, these are long term goals which require significant change and a sustained effort to achieve.
The challenge for Scotland is therefore to develop this cross-portfolio action to fundamentally change the environmental, social and cultural circumstances under which children and young people become overweight and obese. This can only be accomplished through effective partnership and co-ordinated action at a local level across the public, private and voluntary sectors, with councils taking this forward through their leadership of Community Planning Partnerships.
Cllr Peter Johnston
COSLA Health and Wellbeing Spokesperson
Email: Christopher Russell
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