COMMENT - SCHOOL DINNERS

Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 24

A lot of people went to bed angry last Wednesday night. As the four-part Channel Four series Jamie's School Dinners came to an end, images of children 'puking up their own shit, ' as Jamie Oliver so memorably put it, may have swilled around their minds.

Anyone who has been glued to the programmes probably has their own highlight in mind. A combination of shock tactics, choice language (scrotum-burger, anyone? ) and uncontained fury combined to make the series compulsory viewing.

HSJ hopes the programmes will offer a far greater legacy. Jamie has unleashed an attack on the policies of successive governments and made a series of clear demands.

Chief among them is the call for a ban on junk food in schools. His argument is that children simply will not opt for a healthy meal over the delights of reconstituted pap in breadcrumbs. Jamie and colleagues from the Feed Me Better campaign also urged the government to double spending on dinners from a measly 37p a day; to lay down fixed and enforceable nutritional standards; to increase investment and training in catering staff; and to improve food education.

This week, the government responded.

Monday's mini-manifesto on children includes plans, already trailed by education secretary Ruth Kelly, to set up an independent School Food Trust, backed by 'substantial funding', to improve the quality of food provided to children.

Wisely, Jamie has said he will wait and see the detail of the party's promises before offering any kind of endorsement.

In particular, he wants to see the colour of the government's money before he gives his backing.

But the nation's favourite chef said he was pleased that the government appeared to be taking the issue seriously - in contrast to the Conservative Party, from whom, he reported late last week, he had received 'bugger all' support.

Last year this government set a target to halt the increase in childhood obesity by 2010. In this week's HSJ (news, page 7) directors of public health spell out why a ban on junk food in schools is their best hope of success on this front.

HSJ supports a ban, along with increased investment of resources in this area. We urge politicians of every hue to commit to this, and to bring to an end the shameful contribution of our schools towards our children's health.