The hidden dangers of policing school food
In the current furore over school meals, (see Express, BBC, Times) both the politicians and the media have got bogged down in the details of which foods should or should not be banned, or exactly how the currently fashionable dietary prescriptions should be enforced. In this muddle, they have ignored two very important factors.
First, a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed what many parents already know: that restricting children's access to sugary/fatty foods makes them likely to eat more of these foods as soon as they do have access to them – the well-known 'forbidden-fruit effect'. The researchers concluded that banning or restricting access to 'unhealthy' foods "does not promote moderate patterns of intake and paradoxically may actually encourage the very behaviour its use is intended to discourage."
Second, the banning of tuck-shops or chips could also promote the development of eating disorders. The Wolsey junior school in Addington is constantly cited as a shining example for banning crisps, fizzy drinks, chocolate, etc. from its tuck shop and only allowing pupils to eat fruit at break times. A school in Leeds, by contrast, has recently reversed a similar policy as they are worried about encouraging dieting, particularly among young girls. They are quite right to be worried, as recent studies have shown that girls who diet even 'moderately' (e.g. cutting out fatty/sugary foods) are five times more likely to become anorexic or bulimic than those who do not diet.
Before politicians get too carried away with grandiose 'healthy eating' plans, they should be warned that any policies which involve bans, restrictions or authoritarian preaching are likely to backfire, resulting in increased consumption of 'forbidden' foods – except among young girls already at risk of developing eating disorders, who will be encouraged to diet, to the detriment of their mental and physical health.