Elementary schoolchildren get less sugar in their packed lunches, but they also get lower levels of vitamins and minerals than a decade ago, a repeated analysis of nutritional content, published in the online magazine, suggests. BMJ Open.
The nutritional quality of this type of lunch meal is still low, and the percentage of packed lunches that meet food standards increased to only 1.6% in 2016 from just over 1% in 2006.
Since 2006, measures have been taken to improve the nutritional quality of school meals in England, with schools required to meet a set of standards on what can be included.
But there are no such rules for packed lunches. And because more than half of children take one to school, these meals contribute significantly to a child’s diet, researchers say.
They wanted to find out if the nutritional quality of the children’s packed lunches had improved since 2006, when they last analyzed the content of these meals, and if there was any change associated with the frequency or portion sizes of certain foods.
In 2016, they returned to primary schools in England that had participated in the 2006 analysis and also included a random selection of 75 schools registered with the National Foundation for Educational Research.
Information was collected on the content and weight of individual items in packed lunches of 1,148 children aged 8-9 in 76 schools in England in 2006, and 323 children of the same age in 18 schools in 2016.
The most common examples of particular food categories in packed lunches were similar at both time points. The ham was still the most popular sandwich filling, for example; plant-based fillers, such as humus or vegetable pastes, made up of less than 1%.
But the type of bread changed, with tortillas and wraps much more popular in 2016 (13% of children) than in 2006 (2%).
The packed lunches analyzed in 2016 contained less sugar than in 2006: the inclusion of sweets and chocolate decreased by 10% from 62% to 52%, while that of sugary drinks decreased by 14.5%, from 60 % to 46%.
But the provision of cakes and cookies that did not contain chocolate increased by almost 10%, and vegetables remained the least common items, with only one in five children receiving these in their packed lunches.
Portion sizes decreased for some items, including confectionery products (in 6 g), cakes and cookies allowed (in 13 g) and cheese snacks (in 14 g), but also reduced in fruit (15 g less) and milk-based desserts (21 g less).
And the percentage of lunches for children that met the eight food standards (five healthy food groups plus restrictions on three unhealthy food groups) increased only slightly, from 1.1% to 1.6% in 2016.
Essential nutrients also decreased between 2006 and 2016: the vitamin C content decreased from 58 mg to 30 mg, and few lunches for children met the recommendations for fiber, vitamin A, iron or zinc.
Saturated fats, non-dairy sugars and salt in foods also remained above recommended levels.
This is an observational study and, as such, cannot establish the cause, in addition to being based on packed lunches of only one day at both time points, while potentially influential factors, such as deprivation levels, were not included.
But, the researchers write: “Although some children’s packed lunches contain healthy foods, packed lunches continue to be dominated by sweet and savory snacks and sugary drinks. A minority of children eat vegetables or salads and this has not changed in the last 10 years.”
They add: “Although they are not directly comparable, the results of this 2016 survey confirm that children’s lunches have improved in terms of sugar levels provided, but continue to contain levels of saturated fat, added sugars and sodium that exceed standards and recommendations. current. “
And they conclude: “Improving the quality of children’s packed lunches is a complex issue that needs strong support from many stakeholders, including government, industry and schools, if [this is] to improve in the next 10 years. “
Peer reviewed? yes
Type of evidence: observational
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