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J Public Health Policy. 2010 Jul;31(2):212-26. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2010.9.

Improving the food environment in UK schools: policy opportunities and challenges.

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  • 1Department of Social Policy & Social Work, University of Oxford, 32 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2ER, England, UK.


Childhood obesity and nutrition are high on the UK policy agenda because of their association with chronic illnesses and related costs. In 2007, to improve children's nutrition, the Government introduced new standards for all school food sources, including products sold from vending machines. Our research explores the factors influencing schools' decisions and children's food choices in relation to vending machines. We conducted in-depth interviews with staff and pupils in one English Local Education Authority. We found that pupils made food decisions based on cost considerations, and convenience, and they strongly valued individual choice. Schools' decisions to provide vending were influenced predominantly by fiscal and structural constraints. Although unhappy with the current quality of school food, staff and pupils criticised initiatives to restrict unhealthy foods. It appears that achieving a healthier school environment is a long-term project involving multiple strategies of education and incentives, as well as regulation. These must involve parents as well as pupils and schools.

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