What you can do to get sugar out of your school canteen

By Jordanna Levin |

Photo by: inxti/ thinkstock

As you might recall, Sarah teamed up last year with Dr Kieron Rooney, a senior lecturer in exercise physiology and biochemistry and a registered nutritionist at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences, to conduct a study on the health and dietary behaviour outcomes of I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program participants (results that we’re excited to share with you in the not too distant future).

Sarah and Kieron meet up regularly to chat sugar science and developments and recently she fell off her café stool with joy to hear Kieron’s on a crusade to get sugar out of school canteens. We feel many of you would like to join him in this and have provided details on how to do so below.

You might have noticed:

We’ve started a series of “Make a Difference” posts that flag campaigns that you can get engaged in. Where we can we’ll be making this as easy as possible for you. Last week we invited you to wade into the WHO sugar guidelines developments (you still can, until March 31, here).

We asked Kieron to explain the importance of his campaign and why schools don’t recognise sugar as part of their nutritional canteen policies:

School canteens don’t comply with national guidelines – INSANE!

  • The foods for sale in school canteens across Australia are meant to comply with government policies but these are commonly ignored by schools and government does not check compliance.
  • Sugar is being ignored in schools. Current school canteen guidelines are based on the outdated 2003 National Dietary guidelines that assessed foods as: Green: everyday foods. Amber: occasional foods. Red: not to be sold foods. This was built on the basis of total energy and saturated fat, sodium and fibre content… but not sugar!
  • The national guidelines were updated. Canteens were not. When the dietary guidelines were updated in 2013, foods and drinks containing added sugars were shifted into the “limited intake” category. This was NOT applied to school canteens.

This needs to be updated NOW. Sugar must be recognised as a nutrient (if anyone on the planet can still call it as such) to be “limited”.

Some shocking factoids:

These figures are based on The Parents Jury* survey.

  • 38 % of secondary school canteen menus feature soft drinks. This is despite at least two states – VIC and NSW – specifically banning sugar-sweetened beverages in schools over five years ago!
  • Over 96% of surveyed schools feature pastries as a regular part of the menu. To put that in perspective one chocolate croissant contains about 3 teaspoons of sugar, which is already the recommended daily intake for kids, half for adults.
  • Over half of the surveyed canteens feature red-rated foods. This includes chocolate and other forms of confectionary.
  • Secondary schools have more red items on their menus than primary schools. (With the exception of South Australia.) 

What can you do?

We need to take control!

We can’t rely on schools to initiate change. Sarah says this a lot: legislative and industry change is going to be long and slow – we have to be the change ourselves and for our kids. Read more about this here. We certainly can’t rely on government to react. The recent health star rating debacle is a good indication of why.

As long as we are allowing foods with added sugars for sale in our school canteens, we’re knowingly exposing children to an increased risk of rotting teeth, obesity and the potential development of other metabolic diseases like diabetes.

An estimated 25 per cent of Australian children between 2-16 years old are overweight or obese.

Kieron has drafted a letter, which you can find here, requesting an urgent “Call to action” for the review of all existing canteen guidelines across Australian States and Territories in regards to the sale of sugary foods.

If you agree sugar is a potential danger to the healthy development of children you can put your name to this letter by filling out the form below. You have until Friday March 28.

The IQS Team will then forward the letter, with your signatures, to:

  • Federal Ministers for Health Peter Dutton and Fiona Nash and Federal Minister for Education Christopher Pyne.
  • Federal Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King and Federal Shadow Minister for Education and Early Childhood Kate Ellis.
  • All relevant state Health and Educations Ministers.
  • Each state Opposition Leader.


You can write your own letter to your state MP. Not sure who they are? Follow this link.

A free public forum

If you’re interested in learning about Kieron’s insights into the health of our school canteens and his proposed steps forward, he will be holding a free lecture at Sydney Uni next Wednesday night March 26, titled “Sugar Sweetened Schools: A Supply Chain to Childhood Obesity”. This is a free event, but you will need to register if you wish to attend.

*The Parents Jury is an online network of parents, grandparents and carers, interested in improving the food and activity environments of Australian children. Their Fame and Shame Awards are priceless – well worth a look.

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

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