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Child Obesity - School Dinners throughout the world!


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School dinners around the world

In Britain there has been much debate about the healthiness - or more particularly the unhealthiness - of school lunches.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is to toughen the minimum nutritional standards of meals in England.

The BBC News website takes a look at what was on the menu at schools around the globe.

France, by BBC Paris Correspondent, Caroline Wyatt

In a country where food is virtually the national religion, school meals are naturally a subject of intense interest, not least as the nation worries about the rising obesity rate among its children, especially the under-15s.

Many schools already employ their own nutritionist, who works with a parents' committee to ensure lunches provide a healthy, balanced diet.

Much more is spent per meal than in Britain, with a French school lunch costing anything from 1.50 to 4 a head, depending on region. Poorer parents pay only a portion of the total.

And there's no pandering to children's love of pizzas, burgers or chips; these are adult menus served in child-size portions, as the French believe good eating habits start early.

On the menu this week in a typical Parisian primary school in the 11th arrondissement is a mouth-watering menu: a starter of grapefruit, followed by grilled chicken with green beans, then a cheese course and rice pudding for dessert. The day's snack is a tangerine.

One day a week, chips are on offer but with a salmon lasagne, rather than sausage or burgers, while Thursday's pizza is served with a healthy green salad.

The meal is accompanied by plain water, rather than fizzy drinks. There is no choice, so children must either eat up or go home for lunch.

Yet France is still worried by the rapid growth of childhood obesity.

According to the International Obesity Task Force, part of the World Health Organisation, 36% of Italian children are overweight, compared with 22% in Britain and a larger-than-expected 19% in France - a hefty increase for a country that has always prided itself on its healthy eating habits.

Obesity already affects 15% of French under-15s and, by 2020, the figure is predicted to rise to 25%, if current trends continue.

As a result, vending machines are not allowed in primary schools and will be banned in secondary schools from September this year - meaning an estimated 8,000 will have to be removed from state schools.

And while French schools may be offering healthy meals, what happens outside school or even at home is another matter.

The traditional, balanced French meal is now eaten by only 20% of the population - and McDonalds and other fast-food outlets are as popular with French children as with their British or American counterparts.

One million people eat at one of the 1,009 McDonald's restaurants in France every day, and the French now also drink an average of 42 litres, or 74, pints of cola per person each year.

These days, the average French person consumes 34kg of sugar annually, compared with 23kg just five years ago - while the under-15s consume most of all, a frightening 39kg per year each, most of it from snacks, sweets and soft drinks.

A French government commission has made healthy eating such a priority that primary schools offer nutrition classes, teaching children the lessons about healthy eating that their parents used to learn at home.


USA, by the BBC's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Walk into almost any school cafeteria in the United States and the students will be grousing about the "mystery meat" and the pile of green stuff on their plates that once in a former life was spinach.

Students don't like the food, which means as soon as they can drive, they head off campus to the nearest fast food franchise.

And critics say that school lunches contribute to the fattening of the United States.

The humble school lunch has had more than its fair share of controversy in the US.

Attempts to limit the amount of fat by limiting the servings of French fries have only been met by student rebellion.

And of course, the most controversial moment came when Ronald Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, proposed classifying ketchup as a vegetable to meet dietary requirements while also slashing costs.

Both federal and local officials have been trying to improve the school lunch programme, so it is more nutritious for students and the food is more liked by them.

But it's a massive undertaking. The National School Lunch programme in the United States feeds more than 28 million students in 98,000 schools across the country.

Schools also provide breakfast in some districts to low-income children and, since 1998, the federal government has also given schools money to provide snacks to students who participate in after-school programmes.

In 2003, the US Department of Agriculture said the school lunch programme cost $7.1bn.

The menus vary greatly from district to district, but they must meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Americans.

These say no more than 30% of an individual's calories come from fat, and less than 10% from saturated fat.

School lunches are also required to provide one-third of the recommended dietary allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.

The food is mostly packaged, with some critics complaining that lunchrooms are merely dumping grounds for agricultural surplus.

Dr Walter Willett, head of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says of the foods offered to schools by the Department of Agriculture: "Their foods tend to be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of healthy nutrition."

A 2001 Department of Agriculture study showed that 80% of schools offered menu items that could be combined to meet dietary guidelines.

But more than one-fifth of lunch programmes offered commercial fast food, and most schools had vending machines. The study found that students often made bad choices.

But there are attempts at broader reforms.

A new programme partners schools with local small farmers to bring more fresh fruit and vegetables to students.

And some states are pushing to ban vending machines in an attempt to keep the students from subsisting on snacks and junk food.


Norway, by Lars Bevanger in Oslo

There is no system of school canteens here, and all Norwegian school children bring a packed lunch to school.

It usually consists of open sandwiches with cheese or salami toppings. Most schools also offer a cut-price subscription service on milk, yoghurt or fruit.

Lunch breaks are only 30 minutes long. All the pupils eat their lunches in the classroom, often while a teacher reads to them from popular books.

The Norwegian school lunch reflects the general focus on healthy eating in this country.

Nutrition is part of the national curriculum, and many teachers see it as their duty to encourage pupils to stay away from unhealthy foods and drinks which are rich in sugar. It is rare to find soft drink dispensers in schools here.

But some children do turn up without packed lunches. As there is no way for them to buy food, they go without for the entire school day.

This has led some to argue schools should introduce a state-run system of canteens, similar to what is operating in neighbouring Sweden.

But most agree such canteens should offer only healthy foods, keeping Norwegian schools free from soft drinks and chips.


Ukraine, by Helen Fawkes in Kiev

Chips, pizza or burgers are defiantly not on the menu in Ukraine.

But that doesn't mean that school lunches here are necessarily all that healthy.

A typical meal has three courses and a fruit drink.

To start, pupils are given an appetiser like borsch, the traditional Ukrainian soup made out of beetroot, vegetables and meat.

It's followed by a main course of something like sausages or a cutlet, which is made of chopped meat mixed with egg and breadcrumbs and then fried.

That's accompanied by mashed potatoes or boiled buckwheat.

The dessert often will be biscuits, pancakes or syrki, which is chocolate covered cream cheese.

In some Ukrainian schools, children who have special diets are given healthier meals. They are not served fatty foods.

The ingredients for these special meals are steamed rather than fried.

This healthy option is something which has been around since Soviet times.

Virtually all meals are made from fresh ingredients in individual school kitchens.

Meals used to be free but now most children pay for them, in Kiev a pupil has to fork out around $2(US) a week.

In Ukraine poverty and corruption are a real problem.

This means that what is served up in school canteens varies across the country.

According to the authorities in one western region, meals are very poor quality and pupils are unlikely to be given fish, meat, eggs, juice, cheese, milk, or butter.

In Kiev, the city mayor pays for all school children to be given juice and biscuits at break time.

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Guest tv tanned

Strangely enough, I was actually thin as a teenager, it was when I went to uni and had to live off fast food cos it was cheaper than the healthy stuff, that I became the fat bastard you all know and adore.

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Guest Jake Wifebeater
Anyone else find it ironic that the major problem amongst children/teenagers and adults in the UK seems to be ignored by the masses.

Maybe all of AB Music were slender kids.

Everyone's too busy ragging on smokers to pay attention to it. Which is a shame, because no-one likes a fat kid.

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french diet...

i must have been to france about a dozen times in the last 18 months...despite all that stuff tin your thread...i can tell u the diet of the average french adult is pretty bloody awful...(assuming the occasions i dined with them is remotely representitive) dont get me wrong...tastes superb...but they just cant seem to serve up anything that isnt covered in fat or sugar... my guess is in the next 10 to 20 years or so the french diet will not be as healthy as the average uk diet...

...now there's a thought...

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