School milk schemes improve the lives of children and save the NHS money
Mary Glindon MP, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is seeking assurance from the Government that EU mandated school milk schemes will continue after Brexit.
School milk is a natural and healthy option for children. And vital given about a third of 2-10 year olds are overweight or obese, which often means cardiovascular disease, hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity as adults.
A Northumbria University review of the impact of milk on children’s development suggests that it greatly improves children's nutrition and reduces weight. A third of a pint is the equivalent of 68 Brussels sprouts.
About a third of 12 year olds and nearly half of 15 year olds suffer tooth decay which increases NHS costs but cow’s milk contains micronutrients that reduce tooth decay, bleeding gums and mouth sores. Health and teeth problems are worse in deprived areas. Milk contains vitamins and minerals vital for good teeth and bones, and boosts a healthy diet, helping combat childhood obesity and dental decay.
Three government departments, various health bodies and the EU all play a role. Health considerations should inspire government thinking in reviewing and reforming milk schemes.
The Health Department funded Nursery Milk Scheme provides under fives in early years settings for at least two hours a day with a free daily one-third pint of milk. The EU's School Milk Scheme provides over fives with a subsidised portion of milk. Brexit throws that into doubt. I will push the minister to offer assurances for this scheme after Brexit.
However, the school milk sector feels less positive about the new Eatwell Guide's reduced role for milk and dairy products in a recommended daily diet. I am worried that this could limit alternatives for children and young people unwilling to drink water or unsweetened beverages and am seeking reassurances that children will not be discouraged from drinking milk.
I will also focus on new School Food Standards that require maintained schools and new academies to provide children with milk at least once during the school day. The School and Nursery Milk Alliance says there is no clear evaluation or monitoring of standards.
Schools don’t just need to provide milk but also do so in ways that are appealing to children and encourages them to drink it. Today's school milk tends to be chilled and served in individual cartons unlike the warm milk some MPs may remember. But other factors impact on whether children want to drink it. Milk at mid-morning breaks helps children make it until lunch, particularly if they haven't had a proper breakfast.
The Childhood Obesity Plan, a new healthy rating scheme for primary schools, will be introduced in September and should cover the provision of milk in schools, including how it is offered to children. New Ofsted guidance should include milk and best practice in how it is served.
Milk is a vital building block of children's health and should neither be skimped on nor undersold to children. Their lives will be improved and that will save all of us money on the NHS. And if it also helps our dairy industry, so much the better.
Mary Glindon is the Labour Member of Parliament for North Tyneside, and is the Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs