Health: Today's lesson in healthy living: Stanley Slaughter visits a school that has taken a radical approach to nutrition and fitness

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It was the banning of 'sticky' drinks that made the point. Children were told 'no more Coke' on school premises and instead to bring in fresh fruit for their break-time snack. It nearly got the headteacher, of Hotham Primary School Harriet Taper, lynched at the PTA meeting. A school nurse from Twickenham and Richmond Health Authority saved her.

The nurse took empty cartons and bottles of the drinks popular with children, into which she poured granulated sugar to demonstrate the sugar content of each drink. It was when the sugar poured into a Ribena bottle reached the two-thirds mark that Mrs Taper won the day.

At the school, in Putney, south-west London, a pioneering scheme called Promoting Health in School aims to teach children from three years upwards healthy eating habits and the benefits of exercise and fitness.

It stems from a World Health Organisation initiative involving children across Europe. In Britain it is supported by the Advisory Council for Alcohol and Drug Education (Tacade) and Hotham is one of 10 Wandsworth schools involved in a larger health education programme. 'It is pointless talking about health education in isolation. It is much more effective to have a health promoting scheme in action,' Alysoun Moon, a senior Tacade officer in charge of the project says.

As a result, the school's lunches are about to undergo radical revision. Existing dishes include sausages, beefburgers, fish cakes, turkey burgers and chocolate chip sponge. Mrs Taper and Mrs Moon would like the catering service to provide a menu that includes risottos, vegetable casseroles, pastas, baked fish, fresh fruit and a selection of salads.

They also want to instigate a 'traffic lights' system, labelling foods red, orange or green to indicate whether they contain mostly protein, vitamins or carbohydrates. Children would be encouraged to to choose something of each.

Since the scheme is in its early stages, the exact means of monitoring and evaluating it have not been settled. One idea is to use a programme devised by the deputy head, Miralee Hackshaw. All classes from six years upwards will have a wall chart showing targets for physical standards each child should be able to achieve - how many press-ups, star jumps or squat and thrusts, or how fast they should run 100 metres.

Last term Ms Hackshaw taught children how to take their pulses for six seconds and multiply by ten after a session in the gym. 'Over a number of weeks, some children noticed how they had improved,' she says. The class charts will log pulse rates, weight for height and other body measurements.

To encourage fitness, sports clubs have been set up. For three-year-olds, exercise means fun and games. Older children have a wide choice of sports. Fulham Football Club and Surrey County Cricket Club send coaches for training sessions. Under the Wandsworth Sports Initiative, the children can also learn short tennis, mini basketball, junior volleyball and athletics with specialist coaches.

The next step is to persuade parents to attend evening workshops so that Mrs Taper and Mrs Moon can explain the aims of Promoting Health. There is little point educating children if they are served a diet of chips and processed food at home. 'We won't tell parents what to do. But we might say 'Have you thought of this?' or 'Have you tried this?' ' Mrs Taper says.

When the experiment ends, in December 1994, it may serve as a blueprint for other schools.

(Photograph omitted)

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