The impact of food and nutrient-based standards on primary school children's lunch and total dietary intake: A natural experimental evaluation of government policy in England

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Abstract

In 2005, the nutritional content of children's school lunches in England was widely criticised, leading to a major policy change in 2006. Food and nutrient-based standards were reintroduced requiring primary schools to comply by September 2008. We aimed to determine the effect of the policy on the nutritional content at lunchtime and in children's total diet. We undertook a natural experimental evaluation, analysing data from cross-sectional surveys in 12 primary schools in North East England, pre and post policy. Dietary data were collected on four consecutive days from children aged 4-7 years (n = 385 in 2003-4; n = 632 in 2008-9). We used linear mixed effect models to analyse the effects of gender, year, and lunch type on children's mean total daily intake. Both pre- and post-implementation, children who ate a school lunch consumed less sodium (mean change -128 mg, 95% CI: -183 to -73 mg) in their total diet than children eating home-packed lunches. Post-implementation, children eating school lunches consumed a lower % energy from fat (-1.8%, -2.8 to -0.9) and saturated fat (-1.0%; -1.6 to -0.5) than children eating packed lunches. Children eating school lunches post implementation consumed significantly more carbohydrate (16.4 g, 5.3 to 27.6), protein (3.6 g, 1.1 to 6.0), non-starch polysaccharides (1.5 g, 0.5 to 1.9), vitamin C (0.7 mg, 0.6 to 0.8), and folate (12.3 µg, 9.7 to 20.4) in their total diet than children eating packed lunches. Implementation of school food policy standards was associated with significant improvements in the nutritional content of school lunches; this was reflected in children's total diet. School food- and nutrient-based standards can play an important role in promoting dietary health and may contribute to tackling childhood obesity. Similar policy measures should be considered for other environments influencing children's diet.

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Spence, S., Delve, J., Stamp, E., Matthews, J. N. S., White, M., & Adamson, A. J. (2013). The impact of food and nutrient-based standards on primary school children’s lunch and total dietary intake: A natural experimental evaluation of government policy in England. PLoS ONE, 8(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078298

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