Findings from CEDAR studies and evidence review – December 2012
School food is more than just lunchThe current standards for food provided in statemaintained schools in England are set by the Department for Education. However, compliance is not universal and the standards do not apply to new Academy Schools.Research from the Children’s Food Trust indicates that some 60% of children do not eat school meals. There are also many other aspects of the learning environment that affect children’s knowledge and feelings about food, as well as their access to it in and around schools.Recent research has been building a picture of how the provision of school meals affects children’s diet, and CEDAR has been contributing to this evidence base.
Findings from the SPEEDY studyUsing detailed food diary data collected as part of the SPEEDY study from 1625 nine to ten-year-olds in 90 primary schools in Norfolk, CEDAR is investigating differences in children’s food intake between school meals and packed lunches, and the impact of lunchtime food choice on overall diet.The effect of lunch on overall diet
In the SPEEDY study, food choices at school lunchtime made a significant contribution to overall diet, providing around a third of daily energy intake among children of primary school age. On average those usually taking school meals met current food-based standards for school lunches, whilst the food choices of packed lunch eaters were typically less healthy.Comparing the overall diet of school lunch and packed lunch eaters (see this paper):
- Packed lunchers ate over half their confectionary and nearly three quarters of their savoury snacks at school lunchtime. They ate significantly more of both food types overall.
- There was no overall difference in calorie intake, and small differences in nutrient intake (e.g. school meal eaters ate 3% more dietary fibre).
- Packed lunchers ate 10% more fruit overall, and school lunchers ate 14% more vegetables.
Evidence review and frameworkBased on evidence review, CEDAR researchers have also developed a framework for understanding the influences of the school environment on childhood obesity. Some relevant findings from the review are included here.Vending machines can be used to influence children’s snacking habits. The type of foods that should be available from vending machines is covered by the national standards, and pricing has been shown to influence purchases. French et al (2001) saw sales of low fat snacks from vending machines increase from 25.7% to 45.8% of all snack sales when their price was reduced.Food and the curriculum
The use of school gardens has been associated with increases in fruit and vegetable recognition, willingness to taste and preference for fruit and vegetables. Morris et al (2001) report that:
- willingness to taste increased by 19% at the school where a garden was introduced, and not at all at the school with no garden (the control)
- nutrition knowledge scores increased by 32% at the garden school and only 4% at the control school.
Nutritional education coupled with practical gardening lessons in a school garden has been seen to increase children’s preference for vegetables and fruit and vegetable
intake. McAleese & Rankin (2007) report total fruit and vegetable consumption increasing from 1.9 to 4.5 servings following a combined intervention.
References and resourcesCEDAR references
- Download a pdf of this Evidence Brief
- The SPEEDY study was funded by the NPRI and the MRC. Food and drink consumption at school lunchtime: The impact of lunch type and contribution to overall intake in British 9/10-yr old children can be found via www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/publications/publication/diet-impact-of-school-lunch-speedy
- The framework for understanding school based physical environmental influences on childhood obesity: www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/publications/publication/diet-activity-school-framework
- The Top Grub study, A novel school-based intervention to improve nutrition knowledge in children: cluster randomised controlled trial: www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/10/123 Find out about and purchase the game at www.topgrub.org.uk
Children’s Food Trust
- School food standards for England and a number of other resources are available from the Children’s Food Trust at www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk.
- Details of their research activities and findings are at: www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/research
Other relevant references and papers
- School Food Standards at the Department for Education
- Pearce, J., C. Harper, et al. (2011). Short communication: Key differences between school lunches and packed lunches in primary schools in England in 2009. Public Health Nutrition 14(8): 1507-1510.
- Stevens, L. and M. Nelson (2011). The contribution of school meals and packed lunch to food consumption and nutrient intakes in UK primary school children from a low income population. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 24(3): 223-232.
- Evans, C. E. L., C. L. Cleghorn, et al. (2010). A comparison of British school meals and packed lunches from 1990 to 2007: Meta-analysis by lunch type. British Journal of Nutrition 104(4): 474-487.
Please cite this Evidence Brief as: UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Evidence Brief 3: Children’s diet and schools – Findings from CEDAR studies and evidence review – December 2012. http://www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/resources/evidence/eb-diet-and-schools-web/