The UK government recently announced the launch of a nationwide £52million per year (€84.8m) initiative to hand out free fruit to 4-6 year olds. The same government set out recommendations to school caterers in April to decrease the use of cheese in school meals.
Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition & dietetics at Kings College London, is critical of these initiatives because he believes they do not address the key nutritional problems facing children.
Sanders supports targeted interventions to increase the intake of fruit among the more deprived sections of the population who do not consume a balanced diet but he condemned the proposed universal expansion of the School Fruit scheme as a scandalous waste of money. According to a statement from the British Cheese Board, Sanders said: "My research into the government's own National Diet and Nutritional Survey (NDNS) of young people aged 4 to 18 years' showed that cheese could make an important contribution to the diets of children, especially those from poor families."
Calcium is needed to build strong bones and vitamin A helps fend off infections. A key source of these nutrients are dairy foods. The NDNS shows that 44 per cent of boys (4 to 18yrs) and 50 per cent of girls consume less than the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of calcium. Similarly, nearly two thirds of boys and 61 per cent of girls (and over 70 per cent of teenage girls) had diets that contained less than the RNI of vitamin A.
Research by Professor Sanders showed that children who ate moderate amounts of cheese (about 1oz a day) were far more likely to meet their requirements for calcium and vitamin A than those who avoided cheese.
The British Cheese Board (BCB) believes that the UK government is sending the wrong message to school caterers by discouraging the inclusion of cheese in the school menu.
Nigel White from the BCB criticised the government when he said: "It is a major cause of concern that the government has ignored the findings and conclusions of its own NDNS report, choosing instead to focus on its own political agenda which is unlikely to benefit the health of school children in the foreseeable future."
"The government has the ability to subsidise cheese usage in schools under an EU scheme. This would be more beneficial to children's health, as by eating just one piece of cheese a day children can significantly boost their intake of calcium and Vitamin A. Cheese is so versatile that it is extremely easy to incorporate into the diet."