Schools are doing their bit to ensure children in the Isle of Man have a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Education chiefs say they are backing the stance taken by Chief Minister Allan Bell on childhood obesity.
Mr Bell said parents were responsible for ensuring their children eat properly and take enough exercise – and those who failed to do so could be guilty of neglect.
Schools catering manager Chris Wilson, who is responsible for the primary school meals service, said: ‘A balanced diet allied with the right amount of exercise are the perfect ingredients to give children the best start in life.
‘The primary school meals service follows nutritional standards and with the food on offer gives children the chance to explore new tastes and develop healthy eating habits.
‘We try to make lunchtimes a happy time where children are encouraged to enjoy their food, practice eating skills and socialise with their friends.’
School meals staff use computer software to analyse the ingredients of menus against nutritional standards, ensuring they meet minimum requirements for protein, zinc, iron and vitamins and don’t exceed maximum recommended levels of salt, sugar and fat. Mr Wilson added: ‘Eating a balanced diet seems to appeal to young children as there are around 400 more meals being served every day, in the primary schools, than there were before the nutritional standards were introduced.’
DEC physical and emotional health education officer Mal Keary said healthy eating and healthy lifestyles are covered in the formal taught curriculum but children were also given opportunities to make informed decisions for themselves. For example, clubs are often run voluntarily by teachers that give opportunities to young people to participate in physical activity at lunch times and after school in addition to timetabled PE lessons.
She said packed lunches can vary in quality and from time to time schools may bring this to parents’ attention.
‘The Department of Education and Children is supportive of the Chief Minister’s statement in regard to future challenges in relation to obesity levels in children and young people and is aware that this is an issue that potentially impacts on the whole community,’ she added.
Castle Rushen High School, in Castletown, said fitness and wellbeing, including the correct balance between diet and exercise, is covered in lifeskills, health education and physical education.
It is considering introducing a parent education programme to support these programmes, in collaboration with the Community Health Service. There are a ‘limited number’ of vending machines with restrictions on content dependent on where they are placed and who has access to them, the school said.
Meanwhile, at Ballakermeen High School, Douglas, there is only a vending machine in the sixth form.
Head teacher Adrienne Burnett said: ‘We feel senior students are able to make their own decisions about snacks.’ Last week the public health division revealed more than a fifth of all five-year-olds in the island are obese or overweight.