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ukactive and LGA to develop nutrition plan for council-run leisure centres

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In an attempt to counter Britain’s childhood obesity epidemic, ukactive will work alongside the Local Government Association (LGA) to help leisure centres offer a healthier range of snacks.

The non-for-profit body and mouthpiece for local councils have been tasked by the Department of Health to find innovative ways of promoting nutritious foods rather than the chocolate bars and cans of pop commonly found in local authority leisure centre vending machines.

A key focus for the project will be to make sure leisure operator vending machines are “broadly compliant” with the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF), which carry requirements such as making sure portions of fruit are less expensive than sugary desserts.

The standards also frown upon products that are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar – a notion that dovetails with a greater promotion of fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish.

Over the next few months, ukactive will work with its member base of local authority operators to see what they can implement.

The move follows the publication of the government’s Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, which emphasised the importance of physical activity, although it was widely derided for its “watered down” approach to nutrition.

Steven Ward, executive director at ukactive, said it was “vital” that leisure centres were “fully set up to facilitate healthy lifestyles” by combining accessible physical activity and low-cost nutritional food options.

“By setting its own high standards, the leisure sector will be in a stronger position to work ever more closely with GPs and health professionals to serve as a frontline delivery partner for exercise referrals and behaviour interventions,” he added. “At a time when the NHS is being stretched to its limits, preventative health measures are paramount and we see leisure centres as the frontline of the health service.”

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said: “Obesity and physical inactivity are two of the most important public health challenges facing this country. Councils are playing a key role in helping people to eat better, by developing healthy catering policies.

“This has seen, for example, council-run leisure centres stock vending machines and cafes with healthy choices, and reduce the availability of high-sugar items such as sweets and fizzy drinks.”

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In an attempt to counter Britain’s childhood obesity epidemic, ukactive will work alongside the Local Government Association (LGA) to help leisure centres offer a healthier range of snacks.
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