Friday, July 11, 2008

British government minister calls for children to be locked in school to stop them buying junk food

Children should be locked inside school grounds to stop them buying unhealthy food from shops and takeaways, a minister said yesterday. The proposal comes amid new evidence that the Jamie Oliver-inspired drive to make school kitchens offer more nutritious meals is being shunned by pupils in favour of junk food. The number of secondary school children eating school meals has plunged by 400,000 to barely a third.

Children's minister Kevin Brennan said secondary pupils should be barred from leaving the premises during breaks after research found they were spending their money on snacks with high levels of salt, sugar or fat.

Backing a plea by the renowned cook Prue Leith, who chairs the School Food Trust, Mr Brennan said: 'Some schools have a stay-on-site policy for 11 to 16-year-olds but let the sixth form go off- site. I'm very strongly supportive of that approach.

'I would like to see more schools operating some sort of stay-on-site policy because its advantages are shown not just in improved uptake of school meals, but also improved behaviour and community relationships.'

Yesterday's research underlined quite how unhealthy the snacks being bought by children during breaks in the school day are. Some of those who buy their own food during breaks are consuming their entire daily allowance of fat and sugar in one sitting.

A team from London Metropolitan University studied pupils at two large comprehensives - one in a deprived urban setting and another in a well-off suburban area.

The inner-city school allowed all pupils to leave the premises at lunchtime, while the suburban school allowed only sixth-formers the same privilege.

Children's Minister Kevin Brennan has called for secondary school children to be locked inside school grounds during breaks to stop them buying unhealthy food

In the school where pupils were allowed out, just 15 per used their canteen. Even in the school which kept them inside the grounds, less than half (44 per cent) bought food from the canteen, usually sandwiches or wraps, with many buying food on the way to school.

Virtually all the children who were allowed out bought food from local shops, mainly fizzy drinks, chocolate, sweets, crisps, cakes, biscuits and chips.

The researchers found it was not the healthy menus in school canteens that were deterring the pupils so much as long queues, poor facilities and high prices.

They said schools considering keeping children on the premises ought to address these issues first, a finding backed by Oliver last night. 'If you look at what's going on in schools where the catering staff have got the right support and where a "dining culture" is developing, that's where it's working,' he said. 'But there's a big divide between these schools and the many where there are still problems.'

The pitfalls of 'lock-ins' were illustrated at the height of the Jamie Oliver campaign in 2006 when two mothers of children at Rawmarsh Comprehensive in Rotherham started their own takeaway delivery service in response to curbs on pupils' trips to local shops.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: 'Much as schools would like to keep children on site at lunchtime, the number of exits in some - as many as 20 - make this almost impossible.'


Britain: Plans to clear undergrowth from homosexual sex spot branded discriminatory

Bristol City Council wants to prune bushes and remove cover from an area known as the Downs to improve the landscape and encourage rare wildlife. But its own gay rights group has opposed the move, claiming that cutting back the bushes was "discriminating" to homosexual men who used the area for late night outdoor sex known as dogging. Work on the beauty spot has been temporarily delayed while talks with gay rights groups take place to try and break the deadlock.

The area of the Downs sits at the top of the Avon Gorge, in the upmarket Clifton suburb of Bristol and is home to various species of rare plants and wildlife. But councillors said it had become overgrown over the past 20 years. Thick bushes cover the secluded area next to a street known Circular Road which has become a mecca for gay men and couples cruising for sex.

The area hit the headlines last year when four firemen who disturbed an outdoor gay sex session were reprimanded and fined after they shone torches into the undergrowth.

The Downs Committee commissioned a report as part of ongoing improvements to the shrubland and have proposed cutting back a lot of the undergrowth. The move was strongly backed by local residents who complained about "inappropriate sexual activity" and safety concerns in the area. But during the consultation period last year "equality" concerns were raised by the council's Rainbow Group - an action group of lesbian, gay and bisexual council employees - about the threat to gay rights.

A report on the plans states: "As part of the consultation, concerns were expressed by the council's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group (and a small number of other consultees) that this action was potentially discriminating against gay and bisexual men, whose activities on this part of the Downs were objected to by other members of the local community and Downs users." Council officials have been forced to consult with the police and gay rights group the Terence Higgins Trust to ensure there was no discrimination.

Peter Wilkinson, the council's Head of Parks, said: "The general public are unhappy about people taking part in lewd behaviour in public spaces, whether it's between men and women or people of the same sex. "We are working together with the Terence Higgins Trust to make sure any work we will do is sensitive. "We're making sure people know what we are doing so we are not seen to be discriminating."

The $40,000 five-year maintenance scheme was approved in January 2007 and work to remove the bushes is due to begin in the next three months. Peter Abraham, a Conservative councillor, hit out at the anti-gay accusations as "offensive". He said: "How can it be discriminatory to clear land that might stop what is an illegal practice? We need to manage the Downs properly. For a long time we have been told that the scrub land needs to be opened up. "I find it offensive to suggest that by taking this action - which might stop people collecting to carry out what some might describe as illegal acts and certainly offensive behaviour - you are being discriminatory."

The Rainbow Group refused to comment yesterday but said they stood by the comments made in the report.

Police said those having outdoor sex in the area could face criminal charges, and any formal complaints about it would be investigated. A spokesman for Avon and Somerset force said: "Last year saw 250 people arrested throughout the force for offences including outraging public decency to kerb crawling. "Unfortunately there is a minority of people who partake in sexual acts in public places in certain areas which are not only against the law but are also offensive to members of the public."

The HIV charity, the Terence Higgins Trust, said it was in talks with the police and the council over the issue and did not yet want to comment. The Trust has been criticised in the past for handing out free condoms in the area of the Downs where people were engaging in outdoor sex,

A row blew up last October when it was revealed that four fire fighters had been disciplined for allegedly disturbing a gay sex session on the Downs by shining their torches into the bushes. After complaints that their actions were homophobic, the four senior officers from Avon Fire Service were fined $2,000 and transferred to other fire stations.


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