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Public support for healthy food in schools

8 Sep 15

Credit: stuff
Public support for healthy food in schools
Nearly 8 out of 10 adults want healthy foods policy in schools

Strong public support for the Government to take a lead on healthy food in schools and childcare services is revealed in a recent poll.


Results showed 78 percent are in favour of the government requiring schools and childcare services to implement a healthy food policy.


The Horizon Research Poll on healthy food was carried out for the University of Auckland and funded by the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Society of Auckland.


Another question in the same poll also had 78 percent of the public in favour of the Government stopping or restricting the practice of using unhealthy food and drinks as fundraisers in schools.


In both cases, only 22 percent thought the Government should not intervene.


 “The messages is clear - the New Zealand public want strong government leadership to ensure that what is served in the school canteen matches what is taught in the curriculum about healthy eating,” says Professor Boyd Swinburn, who specialises in population nutrition at the University of Auckland.


“It seems the public think  this is a no-brainer and indeed it makes a lot of sense to have schools acting as role models as part of a serious approach to reducing the unacceptably high rate of childhood obesity,” he says.  “They create a kind of ‘lighthouse effect’ for healthy eating which shines far beyond the school gates.”


“A diet low in sugary drinks and packaged snacks and instead, high in fruit, vegetables and healthy meals, not only helps prevent unhealthy weight gain, but is also linked with happier moods and better behaviours,” says Professor Swinburn.  “Contrary to what the adverts tell the kids, junk food is sad food not happy food.”


He says that while many New Zealand schools are already engaged in programs to promote healthy food to their school community, a large proportion are not engaged. 


“The latest figures from the Heart Foundation show that about 60 percent are engaged in promoting healthy food policies in the school curriculum and at the school canteen or tuck shop,” says Professor Swinburn.  “They have some great examples to share of schools doing great things with the support of their students and their wider school community.”


“The Heart Foundation is working with early childhood centres, primary, intermediate and secondary schools on some excellent programmes to raise the profile of healthy food in their school communities,” he says.  “These include student-led activities such as sugar free initiatives, planting vegetable gardens and developing a school orchard.”


“But there are about 40 percent of schools not engaged in any healthy food voluntary scheme.  This could lead to increasing inequalities in nutritional health, if some schools are not proactive enough to provide a healthy food environment for their students,” says Professor Swinburn.


“Healthy eating has multiple benefits for physical health, mental health, attention and better behaviours too, so it is a big plus for students, families and schools,” he says.


The Heart Foundation, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, offers two policy-based programmes for schools and early childhood educations services. These free programmes aim to create healthy environments for children and include improvements to the education environment to promote healthy eating and increased physical activity.


These programmes are: Heart Start: Toitoi Manawa and Healthy Heart Award for Early Childhood Education: Tohu Manawa Ora – KĊhungahunga.


““Children need environments which make healthy eating and physical activity the easy, normal and preferred options,” says Justine Munro, Heart Foundation Education Setting Manager.  “It is vital that schools and early childhood education services are armed with policy-driven programmes and initiatives that deliver healthy food environments to our children.”


“A policy-level requirement from the Minister would require all schools and early childhood education services to develop a comprehensive healthy food policy,” she says.  “That is certainly a step in the right direction towards creating healthy food environments for our children.” 


The results are from a survey of 1,620 members of the HorizonPoll national panel, representing the New Zealand population 18+.  The survey was conducted between 16 and 26 June 2015. The sample is weighted to match the age, gender, ethnicity, education, personal income and employment demographics of the New Zealand population 18+ at the 2013 Census and has a maximum margin of error at a 95% confidence level of ±2.5% overall.


Further information on this issue:


  • The Heart Foundation has feedback and contact information on two of the schools (one primary, one secondary) involved in the Healthy Heart programme.  Contact Heart Foundation Education Manager, Justine Munro on (09) 571 4661 or  or contact Amanda Papps, Communications Manager on 027 836 1056


  • For more detailed information about the Heart Foundation’s healthy food programmes in schools, go to its interactive website for schools and early childhood education services at

For more information please contact;


Suzi Phillips, Media Relations Advisor,

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Communications, University of Auckland.

Email or text or phone 021 416 396


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