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Call to ban school puddings amid tooth decay and obesity fears

12:00am | & Health

Rice pudding with a swirl of jam, steamed sponge with lumpy pink custard, jam roly poly, semolina, blancmange and spotted dick.

Love ’em or hate ’em, these and many other traditional school dinner puddings will certainly stir vivid memories for a lot of us. But now there are calls for puddings and sweet soft drinks to be banned from school meal menus.

The latest such call comes from the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Glasgow. It wants the Scottish government to ban puddings from school meals and limit drinks options amid growing concerns over tooth decay and child obesity. It says about a third of children suffer from dental decay, while just under a third are classed as overweight or obese.

The faculty proposes taking puddings off school dinner menus and replacing them with healthy fruit or a veg-based soup starter instead of a pudding. It also opposes sugar-free sweet drinks in school because they still cause dental erosion and many children do not differentiate between them and more damaging sugar-laden versions.

Professor Graham Ogden, Dean of the Dental Surgery Faculty, said it welcomed efforts to make school meals healthier, such as restricting drinks to sugar-free ‘diet’ options, but wanted to see the measures go further: “We fully support the positive intention of these proposed regulations, but we feel that the Scottish government should take a bolder approach if it is to ensure that our young people have the healthiest possible start in life,” he said.

“For example, we all agree that children should have greater access to more fruit and vegetables as part of their school day, but increasing access does not necessarily increase consumption. The guidance must include an evidence-based plan to ensure any increase in provision also ensures that our young people consume larger amounts of healthier food during school meals.

“We also know that diet drinks cause dental erosion, in addition to being a gateway to sugar. We should aim to ensure that our children’s oral health gets off to the best possible start in life.”

The argument against sugar-free fizzy or sweet drinks is that they still cause some damage to teeth and if children become accustomed to drinking them regularly it becomes a set ‘lifestyle pattern’. They can also easily switch to more damaging full-sugar versions, sometimes without even realising. The dental faculty also wants all schoolchildren to have facilities for brushing their teeth after meals while in school.

The Scottish government has responded by saying it will consider the dental faculty’s comments together with other responses to its plans to make school meals and drinks healthier. However, a spokesman implied that parents also need to encourage their children to make healthy food and drink choices outside school.

“Schools have a key role to play,” said the spokesman, “but it is vital that we all provide consistent messages to children and young people as they learn how to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.”

While many of today’s older generation have fond memories of sweet and stodgy school puddings, other things were different in their day too. Playtimes were spent outside, charging round the playground, leapfrogging, skipping, playing games and generally being physically active. Fizzy pop was reserved for very special treats such as Christmas or birthdays and unheard of in school, where jugs of water or highly diluted cordial accompanied school meals. Young teeth were also strengthened by the calcium from daily free school milk.

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