Schools should set up plasma televisions in their canteens to encourage children to stay and eat a healthy meal rather than head to the chip shop, a minister has said.
Junior children’s minister Parmjit Dhanda warned that overweight teenagers could expect to earn less money as adults and were 20 per cent less likely to get married.
He urged schools to explore ways to reverse the ‘short dip’ in the number of children eating new healthy meals, introduced across England from September last year.
Mr Dhanda told a conference in London there is no evidence to suggest that the drop in take-up of school dinners was due ‘specifically to the restrictions on foods such as chips’.
‘A short dip is not necessarily unexpected or uncommon when healthy meals are introduced,’ he said.
One way to reverse the downward trend would be to improve the dining facilities in a school to make it ‘more attractive to children to eat at school’.
‘Things like using plasma TVs showing music television – not everyone’s idea of a good environment in which to eat, I know, but attractive to teenagers,’ he said.
‘We want all schools and authorities to think about what they can do to draw pupils into school dining rooms.’
He said that Acland Burghley secondary school in Camden, north London, transformed its dining area into ‘a modern attractive area to encourage better eating.’
‘There are zoned areas for different types of eating: snacking, salads and traditional dining, as well as an internet area with built-in easy-clean keyboards.’
Mr Dhanda warned that failure to get children to eat healthier school dinners will have ‘a devastating impact on our society.’
He added: ‘An obese teen is 70 per cent more likely to become an obese adult with an increased chance of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
‘Poor diet currently accounts for around a third of deaths from cancer and heart disease, the major killers in the UK.’
He went on: ‘Overweight or obese adolescents tend to leave education earlier. As adults, their household income is £3,500 less than average. And they are 20 per cent less likely to marry. Healthier, more nutritious food will help to reduce such risks.’
But his suggestions for how schools could encourage more children to eat in the canteen were attacked by opposition MPs.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: ‘Parents who battle with their children to watch less TV will be tearing their hair out at this announcement.
‘It’s patronising to suggest you can coax children into eating healthily by showing them the latest pop videos.
‘Instead of installing TVs in dining rooms, we need to put much more effort into making healthy meals tasty and attractive to children.’
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