Connecticut state legislature’s decision to pass a law banning the sale of junk food in its schools represents a major milestone in the onslaught against big food, obesity and the negative impact on behaviour of junk food.

While the state governor may veto the law, the real message is that public opinion can shift very rapidly and leave powerful businesses on the defensive.

Although primarily aimed at obesity, the effect of reducing junk food dependence will no doubt have some surprising effects on behaviour and scholarly application in those schools that do apply the ban. Expect the feedback to be rapid.

Given the anecdotal evidence TV chef Jamie Oliver observed in his own project to improve the diet in Greenwich state schools, it is surprising that the British government’s recent announcement that it is going to improve discpline in schools did not concentrate more on diet’s contribution to mood, behaviour and achievement. Too often, the process is driven by the results desired, treating the immediate symptoms, rather than designing a process with an expectation that a positive outcome will emerge over time.

Contributing to bad behaviour, senses of failure, and overall poor educational achievement, all of which have a tendency to reinforce one another, is the flawed UK approach to teaching literacy. BBC Newsnight yesterday launched a serial report that will follow a London school’s efforts to turn around its children’s basic literacy skills with the introduction of “synthetic phonics”. Although, a form of phonics teaching is already used in British schools, pilot programmes have shown that “synthetic phonics,” which is a purer form of teaching reading, has startling results, especially among boys, who on average fall behind in the primary years. Most children placed on test programmes have shown achievement levels up to two years ahead of their chronological age.

Arthur Miller, commenting on delinquent beahviour in the 1960s highlighted what he perceived to be the classless nature of bad behaviour, and that what lay at its root was a form of boredom engendered by a technological society. Surely, poor standards of literacy can only compound that underlying malaise.

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