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INSIDE TRACK: Our children's diets make for depressing reading

The most recent comprehensive studies of Scottish children's diets make for depressing reading.

One, published by Aberdeen University in 2012, showed that 29% of Scottish children were classed as overweight or obese. The Scottish Health Survey of the same year found that just one in seven children aged two to 15 consumed the recommended five or more portions of fruit or vegetables per day.

It's interesting that the Aberdeen study found 16% of primary school children bought food or drinks on the way to or from school. The most commonly purchased items were confectionary and sugary drinks - readily available at the cheapest possible prices at the entrance of most shops and supermarkets.

It's generally accepted by nutritionists that a child's palate has been formed by the age of six, yet many youngsters have no idea where their food comes from, and don't know that a plate of chips is the progeny of a potato. Too many believe carrot cake or tomato ketchup counts as one of their five-a-day, that cheese comes from plants, and that chicken is the main ingredient in fish fingers.

It's clear that food education has to start as early as possible, and if it is not coming from today's generation of 30 and 40-something parents, as it evidently isn't, then it must be provided by other parties. And quickly.

Even so, the announcement by Tesco that it is to invest £15 million in Eat Happy, a schools education project that will take one million primary-age children onto its suppliers' farms, fisheries and factories, and invite them into stores, has caused a feeding frenzy among Scotland's burgeoning - and vociferous - food education community.

Mike Small of the Fife Diet, a local eating project with almost 6000 members, led the charge by challenging the Scottish Government to say it had no truck with the plan, since it had already invested considerable sums of money in similar projects. He described the Eat Happy project as a "cynical ploy to establish an early connection with supermarket shoppers of the future". Others joined in, agreeing there was no place for corporate influence in schools.

It's true there are various food education initiatives already in place, from the government's £1m Food Education Fund; the Soil Association Scotland's Food for Life catering programme, which deliver links with the education curriculum; and East Ayrshire Council's school meals service, which includes food education for children and parents.

Last year, the Royal Highland Education Trust organised hundreds of farm visits for 70,000 Scottish pupils all over the country to help them learn about how food is grown. Whitmuir in West Linton, on its way to becoming Scotland's first community-owned farm, has appointed an education officer to teach children where their food comes from, grown in its community plots and garden. Seafood Scotland's school tours are ongoing. The list goes on. Edinburgh's Flora Stevenson school this week invited chef Tom Kitchin to deliver a talk to nursery and primary-aged children.

When it comes to lessons for life, it remains to be seen whether every little helps.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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