Battle of the bulge

A weighty problem for the future?
A weighty problem for the future?

A war of words has broken out in St Andrews after the Citizen featured a letter about what local schoolchildren were seen buying for lunch in a local supermarket.

St Andrean Kate Carmichael was shocked to see the youngsters buying fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and stodgy cakes.

Patrick Marks weighed in a week later, supporting Ms Carmichael, and raising fears of Morrison’s being “swamped by increasingly obese pupils.” Mr Marks also happens to be secretary of the town’s community council, although he was writing in a personal capacity.

Today’s (January23) Citizen carries a response from ‘Community Optimist’ which describes the community council as “out of touch” with the St Andrews community and “insular and mean-spirited”.

Within hours of publication, Mr Marks was back in touch to defend the community council.

We reproduce the correspondence chain, first Kate Carmichael’s opening salvo:

Sir, - Bad timing saw me in a local supermarket during the lunch break of a local secondary school. Approximately 35 children were buying items for lunch.

I was shocked to note they were purchasing litre bottles of fizzy drinks, large packets of crisps, large bars of chocolate and stodgy cakes.

Only two girls had packet sandwiches.

If these pupils are doing this every school day, they will have health problems in the future.

These will mar their life and the NHS will need to pick up the bill.

Both primary and secondary schools give lessons extolling the benefits of healthy eating and the consequences of a bad diet.

The media is full of advice in how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Does anyone care about this - the parents, or the school, society?

We are failing our young people. - Yours, etc.

Kate Carmichael

Then Mr Marks’ response:

Sir, – I read the letter from Kate Carmichael in the December 26 Herald with great interest and support her concerns.

It is extraordinary that pupils are not receiving a healthy diet from the school, but can buy whatever they choose.

I have also witnessed the wide range of food of dubious health benefits purchased over many years and cannot understand how this is allowed.

In many schools, pupils are not allowed out at lunch time and have to make do with school dinners or whatever packed lunch they bring. Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Is it education policy despite lots of talk about healthy diets, etc?

Is it the attitude of parents who are happy to give their children large sums of money to spend on junk instead of encouraging school meals or packing healthy packed lunches?

When the new Madras is built in St Andrews, Morrisons will be even more swamped by increasingly obese pupils adding an extra hazard as well to drivers in the area of the hospital and giving the seagulls even more titbits.

Will the parents who have campaigned so vigorously for the new Madras at Pipeland show some responsibility and campaign to get healthy options provided by the school?

Many teachers I think would agree a child who eats junk food and drink will be less able to concentrate because of the effect of the various ingredients. Getting a new school will not improve educational achievements if pupils are disruptive and unable to settle because of their diet! – Yours, etc.,

Patrick Marks

St Andrews

Which elicited this from ‘Concerned Optimist’:

Sir, – It’s been sad to see such a lack of generosity from so many members of St Andrews Community Council in these pages recently.

First we read about community councillors criticizing foreign homeless people on our wintry streets.

Then last week the secretary wrote complaining that the town is becoming “swamped by increasingly obese children” and wagging his fingers at parents.

Such insular and mean-spirited views are completely at odds with the values that I see every day in our community – a community which owes its heritage to our educational institutions and our international outlook.

Perhaps this explains why the CC is seen as so out of touch with the St Andrews Community and why so few people wish to be part of it.

I do hope that they will, at least, apologise. – Yours, etc.,

Community Optimist

(name and address supplied)

And finally, to the Citizen this morning from Mr Marks:

Sir, -

I find it perplexing that your letter writer, “Community Optimist” has to hide behind a nom de plume to voice his/her criticisms of the Community Council.

First in relation to the homeless foreigners I think the writer should have been present at the discussion at the Community Council meeting to get a true flavour of the concerns expressed. The problem sometimes lies in the way the press report such discussions and I can assure the writer that these were not as negative as portrayed.

In relation to my letter that was written as a local citizen not as a member of the CC. I was responding to the concerns raised by a previous correspondent before xmas. She was horrified at watching the purchases made by some Madras pupils when she was shopping at Morrisons. I was trying to reflect a nationwide concern about a clearly evidenced problem of childhood obesity. I apologise if I upset any parents from Parentvoice but I was not accusing them of being “irresponsible” and not caring about their children’s diets.

I would finally point out to “Community Optimist” that the Community Council has been in existence for around 40 years and in that time has worked tirelessly for the local community in many ways and continues to try and promote activities of community value. To say that the Community Council is “insular and mean-spirited” reflects an ignorance of the many good works of the Community Council. The Community Council is saddened at the apparent lack of interest shown by local citizens in the recent Community Council elections and would like to see more community minded citizens join its ranks to help it continue to promote its wide range of activities.

Community Councils are part of our participative democracy and can act to protect communities and improve communities because their members give up many hours of their time in voluntary activity. Community Council are not perfect organisations but without sufficient numbers it will be difficult to continue to undertake the good work which benefits many local citizens. I would ask “Community Optimist” to reflect upon their comments and perhaps consider joining the Community Council. The only way to improve any organisation is to join rather than write ill informed criticism.

There are still vacancies on the Community Council for anyone interested in contributing towards the life of the local community.