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Faculty of Public Health report calls for expansion of free school meal programme

19th Jan 2024 - 07:00
Faculty of Public Health releases report
The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has led a coalition of health organisations and charities in publishing a new report ‘The Health of the Next Generation – Good Food For Children’, which was launched at the House of Lords.

The report calls on the Government to protect the health and productivity of our next generation by expanding access to the free school meal programme, national school breakfast programme and the healthy start voucher scheme.

LACA, the school food people, supports the call for universal free school meals for children in all primary and secondary schools. 

Professor Kevin Fenton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, commented: “As a broad coalition of public health and medical professionals we are deeply concerned about the long-term health impacts facing our nation’s children as vulnerable families across the UK struggle to access nutritious food.

“By providing universal access to free school meals and expanding access to other existing programmes, our leaders in Parliament have the opportunity to support a generation of children to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

“Conversely, evidence shows us that the poor physical and mental health caused by childhood food insecurity creates a poor foundation for future health, and these children are more likely to experience health issues and lower levels of productivity into adulthood. We face a critical turning point for the health of our next generation – we must take action now.”

Free school meal programme recommendations from the report include:

  • Adopt universal school meal provision for all primary and secondary school children to improve the next generation's diet, health, and educational attainment
  • If a stepped approach is necessary, FPH recommends introducing universal provision of school meals to primary schoolchildren and then expanding the programme to secondary schoolchildren
  • Implement sufficient monitoring and enforcement to ensure all food provided in schools meets the school food standards so the full benefits of a school meal are realised
  • Any new programme should be accompanied by a full evaluation of the impact on health, education, and socioeconomic inequality across a child’s lifetime
  • Before enacting universal school lunch provision, enable the auto-enrolment process for free school meals to ensure eligible children receive what they are entitled to, and schools receive the pupil premium payments they need to support children from disadvantaged households 

Michael Hales, who has previously been chair of LACA the school food people, is currently the national vice chair elect. He said: “I’m holding this apple today as a sign of what is missing from children’s hands across our great nations in schools every day. Now whilst the meals served by thousands of dedicated caterers each day are excellent, many children are sadly missing out on that hot, healthy and nutritious meal each day.

“I am very lucky that in my previous role and now here at Juniper [Ventures] to have been able to work with and witness first hand local authorities who recognise the importance and huge benefit to pupils, their families and the local community as a whole of that free school meal each day.

“Children need a nutritious free school meal to enable them to learn and improve the academic outcomes for themselves as well as help them understand the importance of a healthy diet in adulthood. Now the coalition of public health and medical associations, as experts, are calling for universal free school meals for all primary and secondary schoolchildren.

“So please take an apple. Hold it high and take the picture or make a video using the hashtag #GoodFoodForChildren and #FreeSchoolMeals and share as widely as you can. Let’s make a difference today for the children of our great nations.”

Written by
Edward Waddell