New Government health adviser hopes to end the sale of chocolate as a fundraiser in schools


Sending boxes of chocolate home for students to sell as a school fundraiser is one of the first issues the Government's controversial new health adviser would like to tackle.

Public health professor Grant Schofield, also dubbed the "Fat Professor", has been appointed the Ministry of Education's first chief education health and nutrition adviser.

He told the Herald on Sunday he would not shy away from giving the Government frank advice.

"That's not always going to be exactly what they want to hear. It's not going to be that we have all the answers - some acknowledgement of that is actually better than saying we have it all sorted."

Schofield said the fact some schools sent children home with 60 chocolate bars for their families to sell showed there remained a "systemic failure" in attitudes towards food.

He said that was one of the things he hoped to help change through his new role.

"Fundraising through confectionery just isn't a good look. Families like mine end up with 60-plus chocolate bars in the house.

"We don't want to have to ask others to buy them and don't want to return them so we end up with that many bars. They will get eaten and we don't need that much sugar in our house. Surely we can do something more imaginative."

While schools might not have everything right, he applauded the initiative many schools had already taken in banning sugary drinks and allowing only milk and water.

"I'm pretty keen to see a pretty robust conversation around sugar and processed food. That's a society-wide issue."

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said Schofield would be able to provide advice around the design, integration and implementation of physical activity and nutrition components of the curriculum.

"Obesity is a serious issue threatening the health of young New Zealanders, which means some of our kids could end up living shorter lives than their parents," he said.

"In 2014/2015, 11 per cent of all children aged 2 to 4 years were obese. The figures for Maori and Pacific children were 15 per cent and 30 per cent respectively."

Schofield, father of three boys and director of Auckland University of Technology's Human Potential Centre, has come under fire in the past for his support of the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

While there remained constant controversy over the benefits and dangers of fat, almost everyone agreed sugar and processed food were bad for you, he said.

"There's a lot of controversy around food. Everyone eats. We've all got an opinion about it. There's a bit of disagreement in the science but there's a lot of agreement. I'd like us focusing on the agreement."

Most people also agreed food that was recently growing on a plant or wandering around in nature was best for you, he said.

"We've ended up in a system where there's a lot of highly processed, convenience food.

"I'm all for fast food, I'm just not for highly-processed food."

A whole apple or carrot was as easy to throw into a school lunch as a bag of chips or a muesli bar, Schofield said.

But will kids eat it or will it rot in the bottom of their bag?

"Eventually they'll get hungry. If the usual food you get is packaged food, that's going to be more palatable, but eventually they will eat it. We are the parents."

Physical activity was equally as important and while young children did not need a set exercise regime, Schofield said, they did need limits placed on their use of technology.

"The default mechanism of the young kid is when there's nothing else to do, they play. Technology is great. For our kids they are useful learning tools but very poor masters. The modern parent should be putting rules in around devices."

What children did need was to be able to take more risks while playing and he hoped to encourage parents to allow that.

If children were not allowed to "free range around the neighbourhood a bit and take risks" it would affect them not only physically but developmentally, he said.

It could be harder to keep children active through their high school years so that was when encouraging them to take part in a sport was particularly important.

Tips for parents
1. Eat foods low in human interference (low HI), defined as food that isn't in a package and was recently alive.
2. Cut the sugar by half - the average Kiwi kid has 17 teaspoons of free sugar a day.
3. Don't be scared of fat. If the fat is in whole foods (see low HI above) then it's probably good for them.
4. We have enough phones and iPads and rules for them are a good idea. Technology is a great servant but a poor master. Mostly it's a good idea to restrict screen use and send kids outside. If they complain of being bored they need to be sent out more.
5. Everything in health is underpinned by a good night's sleep.

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