Transforming School Meals

From a Feeding Culture to an Eating Culture

Today, Obesity Action Scotland is calling on local government election candidates to commit to transform school meals in Scotland from a feeding culture to an eating culture.

We are asking national and local governments to place greater value on school meals and create an eating culture by following our four recommendations for action:

School Meals 4 Actions

Two thirds of primary school pupils in Scotland eat school meals. School meals provide a unique opportunity to drive the dietary change we need to see in Scotland and act as an exemplar for healthy eating.

Obesity affects one in every four adults and almost one in five children in Scotland. People who are normal weight are now in the minority and poor diet is a key driver of this.

Our report, launched today, found that the school dining experience varies dramatically across Scotland and we are seeking change to ensure no school or child is left behind. All too often children are offered puddings high in sugar and menus regularly offer processed foods. We found that Scottish primary schools serve puddings more often that soup and these puddings have an average of 14g of sugar.

“We are calling on local government election candidates to commit to transform school meals across Scotland to ensure children have a healthy and happy experience with food” said Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead of Obesity Action Scotland, “Change is possible and we have highlighted areas where that change is starting to happen, but more action is needed and greater priority and attention needs to be given to this subject to ensure we offer all our children the best start in life.”

Scottish Children’s Diet


The diet of Scottish children is generally poor, failing to meet dietary goals. School meals provide the opportunity to turn this poor diet around and have a positive influence on the health of children growing up in Scotland. In 2015 school age children ate only 2.7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day compared to the five portions recommended and only 14% of school aged children ate oily fish once a week.

Free sugar intake is highest in children aged 4 to 18 compared to all other age groups. This means school age children are consuming three times the recommended level of free sugars.

The main sources of free sugar for children are cakes, biscuits, cereals, soft drinks, fruit juice, sugar, preserves, confectionery, yogurt, fromage frais and other dairy desserts. Our research indicates that items such as cakes, cookies, sweetened yogurts and other desserts in school meals could be significantly contributing to this excess intake of free sugars in children.

Obesity in Scotland and the Need for Action

Living in obesogenic environments where relative inactivity and overconsumption of energy dense foods is too available, affordable and accepted is fuelling the current obesity crisis. Although personal choices are important, obesogenic environments create dangerously high levels of obesity in the population and have a powerful effect on a child’s diet, physical activity levels and obesity.
Last year, 10% of Primary 1 children in Scotland were at risk of obesity. Consequences of childhood obesity are striking. They include stigma and discrimination, mental health problems, musculoskeletal complications, heart disease, stroke and common cancers later in life. All result in worse quality of life.

Preventing obesity in childhood is far preferable to attempting obesity treatment later on, because returning to normal body weight and maintaining this weight loss is more difficult for people who already have obesity.

Find out more about obesity, its causes and effects on this website.

Download the full School Meals Report

Follow us on Twitter: @obesityactionsc

April 20th 2017

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