A council has scrapped a scheme to encourage healthy eating in schools after it emerged teachers were ‘spying’ on pupils’ and photographing the contents of their lunchboxes.
Gloucestershire County Council was accused of ‘Big Brother tactics’ after packed lunches were emptied, photographed and ranked according to nutritional value.
The results were then analysed and results sent to parents in a letter advising them how to improve childrens’ eating habits.
The scheme was devised by the county council, NHS Gloucestershire and schools to help promote healthier packed lunches.
Health chiefs have defended the practice, which was introduced six months ago, claiming it would help tackle childhood obesity.
But councillors have agreed to withdraw the scheme after parents complained the practice was ”too intrusive”.
Parent Sharon Billingham, whose son Callum Cowley, seven, attends St Paul’s Primary School, Gloucester, blasted the scheme as a breach of privacy.
She said: ”I think it is a bit too personal to be honest. It all depends on the parent of course, but I’m not happy with it.
”I guess if we were given notice that it was happening then that would be okay but I haven’t heard anything.”
But Yvette Gayle, whose nine-year-old daughter Renee Dougan attends the same school, said she didn’t oppose the scheme.
She said: ”I don’t think it’s much of a problem to be honest. It might encourage parents to pack a healthier lunch for their kids anyway.”
Nineteen primary schools across Gloucestershire have signed up to ‘the packed lunch toolkit’ since January, when it was launched as part of the county council’s healthy eating initiative.
Teachers were allowed to rummage through pupils’ lunchboxes before lunch break before taking random samples for ‘analysis’.
Contents were taken out to ensure children are not identified and then photographs detailing the nutritional content were recorded.
Staff then rated the items in each packed lunch against a set of standards, analysing fat, salt and sugar levels and whether they included fruit and vegetables.
The contents were photographed and rated on a sliding scale of one to five and a baseline score for the school was formed.
Parents of all the children were then invited to the school to share the results and, if necessary, encouraged to send their kids to school with healthier food.
St Paul’s Primary School spokeswoman Cheryl Ridler said: ”We found it a very interesting and worthwhile experience, and we have noticed a definite improvement in the quality of food the children are bringing to school.
”All the parents were very positive about it and we did it in a very nice and careful way, and in no way demanding and intrusive. We never had any problems at all with it. It was working very well.”
But councillor Jackie Hall, cabinet member for schools, said she had no idea the ‘Big Brother’ scheme was being carried out and has ordered its immediate withdrawal.
She said: ”I did not know the practice of photographing the packed lunches was taking place.
”I applaud the concept of healthy eating and working with pupils and parents, however, this is a step too far, and smacks of Big Brother.
”I have instructed our officers to cease this practice immediately.” Health chiefs have defended the initiative, insisting that it was a way of monitoring healthy eating.
Dr Shona Arora, Director of Public Health for Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust, said: ”Childhood obesity is a serious concern and has major implications for the individual’s health and health services.
”Parents are perfectly placed to use their judgement and they are the most important people in helping their children to achieve a balanced diet.
”At the same time, they should be able to benefit from the best possible information and facts about food and nutrition through their school should they wish to access it.
”Evidence shows that around 70 per cent of children eat a packed lunch daily and the Food Standards Agency has previously reported that 9 out of 10 packed lunches are too high in saturated fat, sugar and salt.
”Getting the nutritional balance right is really important for the child’s health and well-being and it can also help them in their education and performance at school.”