Hunger or Hyperbole?
'TENS of thousands of children are going to school every day without breakfast or with only junk food for their lunch.
"We have some children who might be lucky enough to bring a packet of chewing gum with them for lunch" one teacher is quoted as saying in a draft report which has been seen by the Irish Independent.
It quotes research which shows that: *more than half of Irish children consume sweets and 37pc drink fizzy drinks at least once a day; *the rate of overweight and obese children on the island is increasing by 100,000 a year; *fruit and vegetable intakes are only half the recommended amount; *there are inadequate intakes of foliate, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and B2 is common, especially among girls.
Now a major initiative to tackle 'food poverty' among primary school pupils will be launched shortly by three anti-poverty groups.
The Healthy Food for All Guide has been prepared by Dara Morgan, a consultant dietician and nutritionist for St Vincent de Paul, the Combat Poverty Agency and Crosscare, the social care agency in the Dublin Archdiocese.
It says that schools provide an ideal setting to focus efforts on ensuring that children have access to a healthy diet.
They could develop a range of programmes such as breakfast clubs, school lunches and and snacks, milk schemes, after school clubs and school gardens.
The report describes successful projects around the country but highlights lack of parental support in some areas as a barrier to implementing policy.
One principal said: "We tried to ban crisps a couple of years back, but we experienced extreme resistance from a number of parents, some of whom were very vocal and instead of giving their children one packet of crisp they would give them two, just to spite us."
Some principals said that their schools already had too many policies and programmes in place and that implementing a healthy lunch policy was simply too great a workload for members of staff.
The draft report is currently being considered by interested parties and a decision will be taken in the near future on how a final report outlining best practice can be distributed to schools.
A spokesperson for Combat Poverty said that recent figures showed that 14pc of pupils did not have breakfast during weekdays.
The rate increased with age and a greater propoprtion of girls than boys skipped breakfast during school days.
"Not only does inadequate nutrition lead to health problems, -- for example obesity and heart disease -- it also makes it much more difficult for children to concentrate at school and affects their learning."
The report also adds that studies conducted on undernourished children who take part in school meal programmes have shown improvements in their cognitive ability and are healthier in line with their improved nutrition."
Now let's break it down.
1-14% of kids go to school with no breakfast? How is that possible? How hard is it to have a bowl of Ready Brek or Wheetabix? Or to have banana, or even toast? What sort of parent lets their child out the door in the morning with nothing in their stomachs?
2- I don't know about you, but I can't work properly when hungry, I just can't. How are these kids supposed to function without fuel? Ah right, they're not. This reminds me of a study done a few years back on ADD, which found that kids, mostly boys it had to be said, who were wild and disruptive and 'ADD compliant' were found to have significant changes in their behaviour when their diets were changed to exclude sweets and rubbish and include very basic foods, like fruit and pasta and lots of water. The kids calmed right down, leaving the layperson -me- to wonder aloud if maybe letting kids eat the amount of crap they eat and drink the amount of soft drinks they drink isn't outright cruelty.
3-"We tried to ban crisps a couple of years back, but we experienced extreme resistance from a number of parents, some of whom were very vocal and instead of giving their children one packet of crisp they would give them two, just to spite us."
This is easily solved. If your school puts in place a ban on such items and parents include them, confiscate the offending items and if the parents continue to flout the rules ask them to remove their child from the school. Be vigilant and be tough.
4- I would also ban all soft drinks and gum.
5- If you're going to have a school lunch, I would make sure there were only healthy options available, no chips or white bread. Hungry kids will pretty much eat anything, but given a choice will pick the least healthy option.( salty over-flavoured foods tickle the palates of kids, it takes time for them to get used to plainer food if that is not what they are used to)
6- Demand to speak with parents who send their children to school lunch-less. Don't beat about the bush. Ask questions.
There is no excuse to send a child to school hungry and poverty doesn't cut it either. How hard or costly is it to make a cheese sandwich and pop an apple in their lunch box? What about making up a pasta salad the night before, it's cheap and it's easy.
Anyone that sends their child to school with nothing but a packet of chewing gum deserves a good kick in the arse in my view. But failing that, they need to be told it is not acceptable and the school won't tolerate it. When it comes to children's health what we do now can alter and shape their health and their understanding of their health as they grow and reach adulthood.
There should be no pussy-footing around on this one.
Talk about hobbling a child before the poor kid has even started his path in life.