Kids’ school packed lunches still full of Junk food: research

ISLAMABAD: Parents are still packing their children’s school lunchboxes with junk food, despite high-profile awareness campaigns on childhood obesity and guidance provided by consumer groups, research has found.

The Leeds University study found just 1.6% of packed lunches for primary school children met tough nutritional standards set for their classmates eating in the school canteen, Health news reported.

About half of all primary school pupils take a packed lunch to school. Researchers found that only 1 in 5 lunchboxes contained any vegetables or salad, while 52%-60% contained too many sweet and savoury snacks, or sugary drinks (42%), leading to high levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt and not enough minerals and vitamins.

The study, described as “eye opening” by lead researcher Dr Charlotte Evans, saw only a fractional improvement from a decade ago, when 1.1% of lunches passed the standard set for school meals.

The minority of children (17%) who eat vegetables and salad had not altered since 2006, it found.

The report found some progress: for instance the majority of packed lunches examined by researchers passed the standards for protein (95%) and vitamin C (75%).

The first statutory school meal standard was introduced in due to growing evidence linking poor health in adults with obesity or poor diet in children. They limit the amount of foods high in salt, sugar and fats and stipulate that school meals should provide a third of a child’s nutritional requirements.

However, although Ofsted says schools must have a policy on packed lunches, there is no law requiring them to abide by the same standards.

Evans, a nutritional epidemiologist, said that she believed the wealth of information on sugar in sweetened drinks may have had an impact on the reduction in the numbers in lunchboxes. But she added that more needed to be done by retailers, food manufacturers and schools if improvements are to be made overall.

Evans said: “I hope the results of the study are an eye-opener, highlighting that more stringent policies need to be introduced if we want to see real change in the nutritional value of children’s packed lunches.

New policies for schools, food manufacturers and retailers are needed, which will require strong support from government and stakeholders if progress is to be made.”