Healthy eating put back on school menus to fight obesity

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Fat-filled burgers, turkey twizzlers and fizzy drinks are off the school menu from now on as the drive to tackle childhood obesity kicks in.

Pupils in England, from yesterday, must be served healthier options on the dinner menu and in vending machines, under Department for Education guidelines following a campaign by the chef Jamie Oliver.

Each meal must now include at least two portions of fruit and vegetables while deep-fried foods can only be served twice a week. The Government has put aside an extra £240m to subsidise healthy ingredients until 2011 and school chefs will receive extra training. Secondary school pupils will be offered cookery lessons from 2008. The initiative aims to improve pupils' health, behaviour and concentration. It follows concerns about the number of overweight children.

Headteachers said it was unrealistic to expect schools alone to reverse the decline. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Schools are putting in an immense amount of work ... But they cannot turn around years of decline in eating habits without major changes in attitude on the part of parents and the food industry." He added: "We look to the Government [to regulate] food industry advertising."

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, said the new guidelines should transform youngsters' eating habits for the rest of their lives.

The Automatic Vending Association said the move was misguided. "Really, the problem is that the take-up of school lunches is so poor and likely to decrease because of the increase in cost," Jan Podsiadly said.