Despite the rapid growth in childhood obesity, many schools do not have policies in place to promote healthy food choices and nutrition within the school environment, according to new research.

A study examining school canteen policies, diet-related programs and health nutrition practices of the school community found almost half of the schools with canteens operated by external food companies did not have a written contract or policy with the food company regarding food items provided.

Of the 248 schools surveyed across Melbourne’s southern suburbs, 62 per cent had a written policy promoting and supporting nutrition and healthy eating at school in comparison to 86 per cent promoting and supporting physical activity in school.

Jessica Chellappah, a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, said the school environment had a significant impact on adolescents’ food choices, with up to 40 per cent of youths’ total daily energy intake consumed at school.

“The global rapid rise in childhood obesity over the past three decades has led to an increased concern on the dietary intake of adolescents and children, particularly in the school environment where they consume almost half of their daily energy intake,” Ms Chellappah said.

“It appears there is greater emphasis on encouraging sport and physical activity in schools than nutrition education and policy.

“In conjunction with exercise and sport, schools should actively promote healthy eating and good nutrition to students and introduce policies which target childhood health through school canteens.

Ms Chellappah said policies to shape the school-food environment could help remove barriers to following a healthy diet.

“Implementing simple initiatives like school vegetable gardens, and healthy eating educational material provided for both children and parents, could bring about long-term positive attitudinal changes in vegetable and fruit consumption,” Ms Chellappah said.

The survey revealed the majority (88 per cent) of schools surveyed had canteens or other food services. Of the schools that had written policies, 72 per cent of the policies dictated which foods were available in the canteen, 82 per cent on the availability of drinking water, 90 per cent on teaching of food and nutrition in the curriculum and 56 per cent on staff acting as role models for healthy eating.

(Source: Monash University

More information

For more information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition.


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