Van ban, thank you man?

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BURGERS and chips could be off the menu for school pupils if Fife Council decides to ban fast food vans from around its schools.

The authority is considering the options open to it, including the possiblity of a 500 metre exclusion zone for fast food mobile traders, after a discussion paper highlighted the issue at a recent council meeting.

The problems of school children bypassing the option of healthy school meals in favour of fast food options has been a concern raised by headteachers around Kirkcaldy for some time, but no conclusion has ever been reached.

Other local authorities such as Renfrewshire and Falkirk Councils have been successful in implementing exclusion areas around schools in their areas between certain times of the day.

At a meeting of Fife Council’s Regulation and Licensing Committee recently Dr Philip Conaglen, a speciality registrar in public health and Dr Jackie Hyland, NHS Fife’s consultant in public health medicine gave a presentation on mobile street traders and schools in which they said that increasing numbers of local authorities have used their licensing powers to create exclusions.

Dr Hyland highlighted how there had been considerable improvements in school nutrition in recent years through the introduction of healthy school meals and snacks. However this work was being undermined by the low cost, unhealthy alternatives within easy reach of schools.

She said that the possibility of a legal challenge could deter licensing committees from making changes, however the successes of other authorities could be seen as “clear ‘proof of principle’ in this area.”

Councillor Tom Adams, vice chair of the committee, said: “We want to encourage young people to choose healthy eating options when they are at school.

“We discussed a report on the issue of food vans near schools at this week’s committee and are considering the possibility of introducing exclusion zones round schools in line with other local authorities.”

In Kirkcaldy there is a fast food van just inside the gates of Beveridge Park, less than 500 metres from one of the entrances to Balwearie High School.

This has caused concern to the rector, Dr James More, for some time, but he says that, apart from asking his pupils not to frequent it and other fast food outlets nearby, there is little he can do to stop them using it.

“I welcome any steps being taken by Fife Council to help young people make healthier choices. We encourage all our pupils to use the school cafeteria which provides an excellent range of meals and snacks which meet the relevant Government Health Guidelines.

“There is no need for pupils to leave school at lunchtimes.” he said.

Derek Allan, rector at Kirkcaldy High School added: “Health and wellbeing are at the heart of our curriculum and we try to promote healthy living through all our lessons.

“The Scottish Government have a strategy for reducing obesity and diabetes which means that all our school meals are closely regulated. Fortunately we have a very good uptake of school meals – I understand it’s the highest uptake of all the Kirkcaldy secondary schools.

“We don’t have any vans vending close to school and when we have had enquiries from traders we’ve made it clear they wouldn’t be welcome. I fully support any proposal to introduce formal exclusion zones around schools.”