A repeated cross-sectional survey assessing changes in diet and nutrient quality of English primary school children’s packed lunches between 2006 and 2016
Charlotte Evans et al. , 2020
In 2016 there were no meal standards in place for children's packed lunches. This study analyses the difference in nutrient quality in children's packed lunches from 2006 to 2016. Dietary data from lunches in 2016 were analysed using myfood24. Results from this survey confirm that the level of sugar in packed lunches has decreased since 2006, but they continue to be dominated by sweet and savoury snack and sugary drinks.
Objective Mandatory school meal standards were introduced in 2006 in England; however, no legislation exists for packed lunches. This study analyses provision of foods and nutrients in packed lunches in 2016 to highlight differences in diet and nutrient quality since 2006.
Design Two cross-sectional surveys of children’s packed lunches were conducted in 2006 and 2016. Data were analysed using multilevel regression models taking into account the clustering of children within primary schools.
Setting Data were collected from 1148 children who attended 76 schools across England in 2006 and from 323 children attending 18 schools across England in 2016.
Participants Children were included if they regularly ate a packed lunch prepared at home (approximately half of children take a packed lunch to school) and were aged 8–9 years (in year 4), for both surveys.
Outcome measures Data collected in both years included provision of weight and type of food, nutrients and proportion of lunches meeting individual and combined school meal standards.
Results Frequency of provision and portion size of some food types changed substantially between surveys. Frequency of provision of confectionery in lunches reduced by 9.9% (95% CI −20.0 to 0.2%), sweetened drinks reduced by 14.4% (95% CI −24.8 to −4.0%), and cakes and biscuits not containing chocolate increased by 9.6% (95% CI 3.0 to 16.3%). Vegetable provision in lunches remained low. Substantial changes were seen in the percentage of lunches meeting some nutrient standards: non-milk extrinsic sugars (19%, 95%CI 10 to 29%), vitamin A (−8%, 95%CI −12 to −4%), vitamin C (−35%, 95%CI −42 to −28%) and zinc (−8%, 95%CI −14 to −1%).
Conclusions Packed lunches remain low quality with few meeting standards set for school meals. Provision of sugars has reduced due to reductions in provision and portion size of sugary drinks and packaged sweet foods; however, provision of some nutrients has worsened.