School nurses call for burger exclusion zones

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The Independent Online

Hamburger vans should be banned from trading outside schools as part of efforts to improve children's' eating habits, school nurses said last night.

Hamburger vans should be banned from trading outside schools as part of efforts to improve children's' eating habits, school nurses said last night.

Local authorities should impose "exclusion zones" around schools, said leaders of the association representing 1,500 school nurses, as well as health visitors and district nurses.

The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA) made its call after the Independent on Sunday revealed fears that poor quality meat in school dinners during the 1970s and 1980s may have contributed to the spread of "new variant CJD", the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Last week, a report said that more than half of Britain's teenagers ate as many as four hamburgers a week. The Food Commission found many burgers contained as little as 60 per cent meat, the rest being fat, water, salt or fillers.

Pat Jackson, professional officer at the CPHVA, said many fast-food vans targeted schools at lunch time, some even parking in the playground to sell burgers and hot dogs.

"We are not linking burger vans with CJD but we are concerned about the mixed message that kids are getting," she said. "We are not saying that kids should never eat burgers, but 'everything in moderation'. We have parking restrictions outside our schools, so maybe we should extend that to fast-food outlets.

"We have a healthy schools programme, which encourages healthy eating, but outside school you get a burger van and other fast-food outlets, so every child who leaves school has to walk past lots of temptations."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said fast-food vans were a serious problem for schools. "I have known head teachers who have had to confront the situation, but it is very difficult to move a van because they are on the public highway outside a school," he said.

"Some head teachers try to overcome problems by inviting the van inside the school grounds where they can keep an eye on what is happening.

"I don't think heads want to be responsible for children's nutrition, but they don't want kids to be eating rubbish and they don't want the additional discipline problems of having traders at the school gate."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that many heads had sympathy with the school nurses' concerns, but educating children to avoid unhealthy food was more effective than trying to ban fast-food outlets from the street.

"At the end of the day it's a matter of education. You have to explain to pupils what they should eat and what they should not eat so they know why it is better to eat the food provided by the school."

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