It is essential that children and young people are able to make informed choices about the food they eat. Whether eating out, in school or at home, we need to support children and young people to make healthier food choices and eat a balanced diet.
Much work has been and continues to be done across Scotland to improve food in schools. The food environment beyond the school gate is also an area where there is scope to influence the food choices children and young people make throughout the school day. Action in this area can help to create a more positive food environment for children and young people; one that readily promotes health and wellbeing and makes healthier choices more accessible.
This document sets out options and invites local authorities, schools, caterers and retailers, and other partners to consider what more they can do to positively influence the food environment beyond the school gate. This includes options to encourage children and young people to stay on site and purchase school food as well as increase the availability of healthier options outside of school.
The guidance and support within this document is designed to help those involved to plan, develop and implement their own local strategies and programmes of activity. All partners are encouraged to take time to consider the support and tools available to them which they can use to effect change in their local area. A self-assessment tool is included in this document to help partners consider their role, to help recognise the positive work already underway, and to identify what more can be done to influence the food environment around schools and encourage healthier choices.
Opportunities for action have been identified across four main areas:
1 Stay on site and alternative outlet provision in schools
2 Marketing, promotions and incentives
3 Support and guidance for caterers and retailers
4 Regulation: Environmental Health, licensing and planning
This document has been designed to support a variety of local circumstances and diverse school environments in both urban and rural areas, recognising that a one size fits all approach is not appropriate. Some options are for local authorities to lead on; others for schools, retailers and caterers, but common to all is a need to work together in partnership.
The action set out in this document is intended to complement the extensive work already going on within schools to encourage more children and young people to eat a school meal. Better Eating, Better Learning: A New Context for School Food, published in March 2014, focuses on food provision and food education within schools. Taken together, these two documents provide a strong foundation upon which partners can continue to build and develop their plans to encourage and support children and young people to make healthier choices both within and outwith schools.
Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) and Single Outcome Agreements (SOAs) represent the key mechanisms by which partners currently come together to agree priorities, in the form of clear outcomes and improvement actions, and to align and target their total available resource towards those outcomes and actions. As part of this process, CPPs are tasked with developing a clear and evidence-based understanding of local needs and opportunities, underpinned by robust and relevant data and strong engagement with communities and the third and business sectors.
This presents a real opportunity and an established route through which local authorities and other partners can consider the food environment within their communities, as part of their broader work to understand local need.
CPPs are also tasked with considering local needs in relation to three national priorities, and with developing local outcomes within their SOAs to address those needs. Each CPP will agree its own individual local outcomes. However joint action across CPPs to positively influence the food environment around schools would contribute directly to two of the six national SOA priorities - early years and reducing health inequalities. CPPs will want to consider the potential this offers. In addition, any action to improve the food environment around schools and the food choices young people make can help to take demand out of the system by preventing future health issues associated with poor diet. CPPs will therefore want to consider the potential for the action identified in this document to form a key component of their joint approach to tackling health inequalities and developing earlier interventions as part of a collaborative approach to prevention.
Improving diet, particularly amongst children and young people, is integral to the Scottish Government's national outcome to lead longer, healthier lives. The action set out in this document directly supports the commitment set out in the Obesity Route Map Action Plan 'to explore measures to restrict access by children to nutritionally inappropriate meals and high energy and energy dense foods from businesses located in the vicinity of schools'. This guidance also supports a number of other key national policies including the Supporting Healthy Choices Voluntary Framework, Recipe for Success: Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy, the Scottish Dietary Goals, The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007, The Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008, and Curriculum for Excellence. Greater knowledge and understanding of food and health will also support our children and young people to be develop the four capacities: to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.
Improving the food environment in and around schools is a considerable challenge; there is no quick fix or simple solution to this complex issue. However, we firmly believe that this ambition can be achieved through:
- community planning priorities that reflect the public health ambitions;
- stronger partnership working between local businesses and schools to provide healthier options for children and young people;
- food businesses prioritising health through responsible marketing and employee development;
- a stronger health improvement focus for environmental health; and
- public health being at the heart of licensing and planning decisions.
It is recognised that this vision will require partnership working and commitment from all sectors. However, through the actions identified in this document, there is a real opportunity to positively influence the food environment and the food choices children and young people make, both in and out of school. Not only will this benefit children and young people, it will also have a positive impact on the wider community, by making healthier choices more accessible to all.
Email: Christopher Russell