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Thursday 19 July 2018

Dr Ali Hill shares her response to Ofsted's statement that schools alone cannot solve childhood obesity

You may have seen in yesterday’s Guardian that the chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has said that schools alone cannot solve childhood obesity. Hats off to Amanda – I definitely agree the solution to childhood obesity will require the help of many – but how can we downplay the impact that schools can have on the issue?

In the article, Amanda says that the main role of teachers is to be educators – but this is exactly the reason why they play such a vital role in helping children to make healthy choices. Teachers can educate children in healthy eating as part of the curriculum, and can model good behaviours for healthy eating and physical activity in the school environment. Schools can adapt their lessons to involve physical activity, with strategies such as those seen with the Daily Mile/Golden Mile or Edumove, which encourage children to move more. The school itself can also change the food environment to remove tuck shops or ban energy drinks, and replace them with healthy vending machines instead.

At Solent University we will shortly be starting a cooking initiative which will target parents of school children to teach them how to create quick and healthy meals on a budget. But as great as these classes will be, they may only solve one of the problems related to obesity.

Imagine the fight against childhood obesity as a machine – all the different tactics that are being adopted (like the sugar tax and Golden Mile) are a different cog. For the machine to work, all the cogs need to be running smoothly. Take out a cog and the machine won’t work. However, while all these moving parts are important, I would argue that schools deserve to be a bigger cog than others. After all, it’s the place our children spend the most amount of time outside of their own homes!

As a course leader, I understand first-hand how hard it can be to juggle the responsibilities that come with being an educator. Perhaps, if the issue is that teachers and school leaders are “already stretched”, we need schools to shift priorities in order to allow teachers to continue playing a role in supporting our next generation to get the healthiest start to their lives possible.

Dr Ali is a registered nutritionist and course leader for BSc (Hons) Applied Human Nutrition. For more information please contact news@solent.ac.uk.