Primary school lunchboxes have poor nutrition value in England, study finds

Camille Bienvenu
Tue, 06 Sep 2016
Primary school lunchboxes have poor nutrition value in England, study finds
Researchers at the University of Leeds have made the astounding discovery that the vast majority of primary school lunchboxes are packed with very poor nutritional content.

The study has flagged health concerns over very high fat, sugar, and salt content in food served in the schools surveyed.

The findings show that only 1.6 per cent of lunchboxes in England's primary schools are meeting nutritional standards, further stoking the epidemic of childhood obesity plaguing the country.

According to researchers, the quality of food aimed at kids has only improved by 0.5 per cent in the last ten years and packed lunches were not at the heart of the government's childhood obesity agenda.

Upon analysing the content of lunchboxes, the research team has found hefty amounts of unhealthy foods, such as crisps, chocolate biscuits, and sugary drinks.

Macronutrients ratios were completely off too with many food items containing high levels of saturated fats, sugars and salts, and only one in five lunchboxes made up of vegetables or salad.

The research, commissioned by Flora, revealed that between 52 per cent and 60 per cent of the packed lunches were filled with too many sweet and savoury snacks, while 46 per cent included sugary drinks.

Three lunches consisted, for example, of just a squash drink, a packet of crisps, and a chocolate bar or roll.

As for micronutrients, less than 20 per cent of all the lunchboxes examined met the standards for vitamin A or zinc, and only 26 per cent met the requirements for recommended iron intake at that age.

However, researchers noted improvements in the standards for protein and vitamin C.

But in terms of the overall content of the boxes, although there was a slight decrease in the level of saturated fats and sugars, it is still higher than that of the current guidelines.

What is really of concern though, and perhaps more so than the quantity of fat put forward by researchers, is the number of unhealthy sources of fat coming from highly processed foods.

The latest diabetes and obesity research indicates that fat, including saturated fat, is considered healthy when it comes from healthy sources, such as meat, dairy, fish and nuts.

Flora held talks with MP Sharon Hodgson, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of School Food, to put children's lunchboxes at the centre of the childhood obesity debate, which will hopefully give rise to well overdue packed lunch policies.

Dr Charlotte Evans, nutritional epidemiologist and the study's lead researcher, believes the results of the study are an eye-opener for what needs to be done to help schools rise above average when it comes to feeding young children a healthy diet and giving them a consistent message.
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