Sugar is on the menu in schools as canteen guidelines fail

19 March 2014

Guidelines used to rate school canteen menus should be overhauled to limit the sugar content of food and drinks, according to University of Sydney nutrition expert Kieron Rooney.

Dr Kieron Rooney, a senior lecturer in biochemistry and exercise physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, said the current canteen guidelines do not pass the nutrition test because added sugar is not included in the 'nutrient criteria' to classify food or drinks as green, amber or red.

"Australia's canteen guidelines are failing our kids because they don't comply with the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend limiting food and drinks with added sugar," Dr Rooney said.

"The canteen guidelines only assess the kilojoules, saturated fat, sodium and fibre content of food and drinks, which means menu items that are still high in added sugar can be deemed canteen compliant and sold at the school tuckshop."

Dr Rooney warned that food and drinks with high sugar content were sneaking onto canteen menus across the country because the criteria guidelines were so outdated.

"Parents will be disappointed to learn the guidelines are so narrow that foods high in added sugar can still get a green light as long the kilojoules meet the criteria threshold," he said.

"The amount of sugar per serve is recorded on the nutrition panel of food and drinks, but canteens don't need to heed this information because they're not penalised for selling products with lots of added sugar."

Dr Rooney has launched a campaign on Sarah Wilson's iQuitSugar website encouraging parents to write to federal and state members of parliament to urge them to change the guidelines.

The campaign calls on our parliamentarians to review the existing national canteen guidelines and the guidelines at a state and territory level to assess sugar and ensure our kids have better options at school canteens. People interested in supporting the campaign should visit

"Australia's canteen rules are outdated and need an urgent checkup because many compliant foods are high in added sugar," he said.

"The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends children's sugar intake should be less than 10 percent, with improved health benefits associated with reducing sugar to 5 percent of energy intake, so it's important that we ensure our guidelines are up to date to protect kids' health.

"Excess sugar consumption is associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity."

Dr Kieron Rooney will address the important issue of childhood obesity in his lecture Sugar sweetened schools next week at Sydney Law School.

Event details:

Date: Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Time: 6.00pm - 7.00pm
Venue: Law School foyer, level 2
Sydney Law School, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney

Registration: online

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