Action Track 2 aims to increase the demand for sustainably produced food, strengthen local value chains, improve nutrition, promote the reuse and recycling of food resources, and eliminate wasteful patterns of food consumption. Such goals are welcomed, seen as the hidden costs to our society of the health, socio-economic and environmental impacts of the global food system are very high at an estimated figure of US$12 trillion every year; which is US$2 trillion above the estimated annual net value of food and land use systems. Action Track 2 also recognises that we need to facilitate a transition in diets towards more nutritious foods that require fewer resources to produce and transport.
Community-based approaches that aim to create a more healthy and sustainable food system offer the potential to improve healthier food selection, purchase, and consumption (Elbel, 2015). For example, community organisations and school districts in the US have implemented traffic light labels and choice architecture to increase healthy choices of food, and some schools have starting testing the effectiveness of increasing water availability to students (Micha, 2018). One innovation that I think should be tried and tested is a ‘sugar-free schools’; specifically post primary schools, whereby refined sugar is outlawed. Refined sugars have been shown to increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. They’re also linked to a higher likelihood of depression, dementia, liver disease, and certain types of cancer. As well as this, Dental issues also arise when one’s sugar intake is high, not to mention the link to cognitive hyperactivity in even moderate doses.
Taking sugar off the menu in schools, and restricting its consumption entirely if possible; has not only been effective in promoting students health and well-being, but it has also been able to reduce behavioural issue arising in schools, as well as being cost effective for the school themselves. Dr. Yvonne Sanders-Butler, the principal of Browns Mill Elementary School in Lithonia, Georgia, banned sugar in the school in which she worked. Her motivation was both personal and professional. The results of the school-wide ban on sugar were dramatic. ‘’In the first month of the ban, we noticed inappropriate behaviour had dropped and students were more on-task’’, Sanders-Butler said. The school had a 23% drop in discipline referrals and teachers could spend more of their time actually doing their job of teaching the students. Counselling referrals for students having trouble getting along with other students also decreased. Sanders-Butler said the change in the kinds of foods the school provides students has actually led to $600,000 in savings over the past 10 years. The program was so successful that it is now an adopted model in over 17 schools in Fulton County, Georgia (Sahoo et al., 2015).
The vast majority of Irish primary schools have healthy eating policies. However, when children transition to post-primary school, they enter into a very different environment in which they have greater financial autonomy which often results in opting for unhealthy choices and this needs to be addressed given one in four Irish children are now overweight or obese and Ireland is on course to be the heaviest nation in Europe by 2030 (Houses of the Oireachtas).
- Elbel B, Mijanovich T, Abrams C, Cantor J, Dunn L, Nonas C, Cappola K, Onufrak S, Park S. A water availability intervention in New York City public schools: influence on youths’ water and milk behaviors.Am J Public Health. 2015; 105:365–372.
- Micha R, Karageorgou D, Bakogianni I, Trichia E, Whitsel LP, Story M, Peñalvo JL, Mozaffarian D. Effectiveness of school food environment policies on children’s dietary behaviors: a systematic review and meta-analysis.PLoS One. 2018
- Houses of the Oireachtas, Joint Committee on Education and Skills, Report on tackling of obesity and the promotion of healthy eating in schools, July 2018
- Safefood (2012) The cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland
- Sahoo et al., (2015); Childhood obesity: causes and consequences Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care Apr-Jun 4(2):187-192