What is it about?

Eating patterns among school-aged children continue to be highly reliant on frequent consumption of food items that are perceived to have low or poor nutritional value. This has become a serious public health concern. In this New Zealand-based study, primary school children's food consumption behaviour was investigated via two sources: a cross-sectional survey of school foods from 927 lunch-boxes, and the content analysis of unconsumed foods deposited in provided food waste disposal bins.

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Why is it important?

The results indicated that most lunch-boxes contained an over-representation of the food groups high in fat, sodium and sugar, and an under-representation of fruit and vegetables. In this study, the measured high proportions of unconsumed healthy foods (mainly fruit and vegetables), in comparison to unhealthy foods, being thrown away by school-children were of concern. The results indicate that schools and parents should pursue initiatives that support healthy diets for children as best practice.

Perspectives

In July 2004, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC), signed a ‘tripartite memorandum of under- standing’ towards improving the health and well-being of schoolchildren in New Zealand, with a particular emphasis on nutrition. A few years on, the results of this study suggest that this change is yet to occur – at least in terms of schoolchildren’s nutrition while they are at school. If the rhetoric in this area is to become a reality, what is required are concerted calls and action for a partnership between school management, teachers, parents and children. This will assist the exploration of strategies for the development of a healthy lunch and overall food policy, within the school environment.

Dr Dean Whitehead
Flinders University

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This page is a summary of: What are New Zealand children eating at school? A content analysis of `consumed versus unconsumed' food groups in a lunch-box survey, Health Education Journal, March 2009, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0017896908100444.
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