Food and drink in schools: nutrition requirements review

Independent review by the Technical Working Group of nutrition requirements regulations.

Executive Summary

The remit of the technical working group ( TWG) was to undertake a review of the existing School Food and Drink Regulations (Scotland) 2008, and to provide evidence based recommendations to progress school food further towards the Scottish Dietary Goals ( SDGs). The primary focus of the TWG was the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

The TWG took account of differences in the types of provision between primary and secondary schools, to ensure that the standards apply specifically to each setting. The proposals presented maintain and update nutrient standards, as well as enhancing existing food and drink based standards.

Nutrient Standards

The nutrient standards, which apply to school lunches, have been amended to encompass Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition ( SACN) recommendations published since 2008 on energy and carbohydrates. With respect to energy there is a small reduction in energy requirements for primary aged children, however the energy requirements for young people in secondary school have increased in line with the SACN reference values. In turn, those nutrient standards expressed as % energy, e.g. fats and sugars, have changed accordingly. The TWG recognise that the increase in energy requirements for young people in secondary school appears inconsistent with current overweight and obesity rates. However, it is in line with current SACN energy requirements and there is a duty of care to ensure that those entitled to free school meals have access to a school lunch that meets their energy and nutrient requirements.

To reduce the variation and extremes in energy content it is proposed that school lunches meet the energy standard within acceptable tolerances on a daily basis. It is proposed that the calculation of all other nutrients remain over the week to allow flexibility in menu design.

Evidence from school inspections show that young people in secondary schools use the school catering service in a different way to primary school children and tend to choose single items over a number of occasions, rather than a full meal at lunchtime. There are also a wider range of items, most of which can be purchased individually, that are on offer making nutritional analysis of the entire secondary lunch provision extremely challenging. It is therefore proposed that the nutrient standards in secondary school are applied to a minimum of a two choice, two course lunch only.

Substantial changes are required to reduce free sugar in school food. The proposed standard for free sugar has been set at 7.5% of energy, rather than the SACN recommendation of 5%. This represents a significant reduction in sugar from the existing standard, whilst recognising the severity of moving to a 5% nutrient standard for free sugar in one step. In addition to reducing sugar in the nutrient standards, new food based standards designed to reduce sugar across the day have also been proposed.

The nutrient standard for fibre has been brought into line with the new SDG.

Food and Drink Standards

The SACN report on iron and health highlighted the link between consumption of red and processed meat and increased risk of developing colorectal cancer in later life. Therefore standards are proposed for red and red processed meat to protect the health of children and young people.

It is proposed that the existing standard for fruit and vegetables is amended to increase fruit and vegetable provision and move further towards the SDGs. The proposed change moves the emphasis from variety to the provision of full portions of fruit and vegetables.

Changes are proposed to permitted drinks in schools, with a key focus on reducing free sugars. In order to support the reduction in free sugar provision across the day, it is proposed that fruit juice and fruit juice combination drinks are no longer permitted due to their high free sugar content. The proposed standards are designed to reduce sugar and provide choice, whilst still supporting public health and moving towards the SDGs.

All proposals for food and drinks provided across the school day have been designed to support progress towards the SDGs. The enhanced set of food and drink standards encompass nutrient and frequency specifications, to limit high fat, salt or sugar ( HFSS) foods. New standards are proposed for sweetened and baked products, red and red processed meat, breakfast cereals, sweetened yoghurts and other milk based desserts, and pastry products.

Prior to finalising the recommendations, the TWG sought views from education and catering colleagues from across Scotland on some key aspects of the proposals.

Next Steps

The recommended changes to the regulations are based on the most up to date consensus scientific evidence on diet and health and are designed to support the health of children and young people in the school setting. It is proposed that any revised regulations are reviewed and updated within 3 years, with a view to further aligning school food provision with the SDGs.


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