The real cost of school dinners

Last updated at 16:10 07 March 2005

So much for 'joined-up government'.

Ministers paint an apocalyptic picture of the nation's health, calling for action to stop more young people becoming obese.

Yet these are the self-same politicians busy selling off school playing fields, denying ever more children the chance of exercise. Meanwhile, thanks to absurd political correctness, competitive sport is in decline. And perish the thought there might be any physical contact - the commissars of the compensation culture have seen to that.

Now comes scientific evidence that we have a school meals system which feeds youngsters with food consisting largely of reconstituted junk that does not contain enough of the nutrients they need.

It is bad enough that the children cannot tell from the batter-covered mush they are served what they are eating.

But perhaps even more damaging is the effect of all the additives they are pumped full of, which may lead to aggressive behaviour and poor concentration - not to mention the inadequate amounts of vitamins, calcium and fibre.

Isn't the real disgrace that it took the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to highlight this growing scandal? Shocked that only 37p on average is spent on each meal, he introduced healthier food into one London primary school.

The result: in just one month behaviour, health and concentration had improved.

Of course the present food allowance will have to rise if Mr Oliver's experiment is to be extended. But, surely extra funding can be linked to better meals?

This country has one of the highest rates of heart disease in Europe and there are fears of an obesity epidemic.

If we do not invest more in our children, we will face an even higher bill for treating a new generation whose diets have been so shamefully neglected.

Mr Reid's stunt

In a desperate attempt to regain the initiative after the war of Margaret Dixon's shoulder, Health Secretary John Reid says he will fine hospitals that cancel planned operations.

But surely such knee-jerk electioneering will only damage the very hospitals already failing to meet their obligations.

Depriving them of funds will create a vicious circle of more ward closures, even fewer operations and even more fines, while introducing yet another set of meaningless targets into the NHS, giving even more power to the bureaucrats and soaking up valuable resources.

Instead of more stunts - and it's a bit rich of Mr Reid to accuse the Tories of playing politics with health when he does little else himself - he should be dealing with the real problems.

Isn't everything that is wrong with Labour's policy encapsulated in Great Ormond Street Hospital, which has had to close up to a fifth of its beds, cancel operations and turn away critically sick children because of severe financial problems.

Surely, as Michael Howard has proposed, the time has come to restore to doctors and nurses the final say in such important medical decisions.

Wide of the mark

Abuse and violence by those footballers revered by youngsters as role models means that matches should not be televised until after the 9pm watershed, says a headteachers' representative.

Superficially attractive, no doubt. But that is treating the symptom not the cause of the problem.

The real target should be the football authorities who have been far too slow to discipline the over-paid, over-indulged players who so damage their sport's image on and off the pitch.

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