Only 1 in 100 children’s packed lunches meet nutritional standards in the UK

A major survey found that less than two in 100 primary school children in the UK eat packed lunches that meet nutritional standards.

The data also showed that the amount of sugary food in lunchboxes declined over ten years. However, it is still higher than recommended, and there has been a drop in essential vitamins and minerals. The University of Leeds researchers say the lack of fresh food is to blame.

With just one in five children having any vegetables or salad in their packed lunch, the researchers argue that the Government should consider making fresh vegetables freely available in schools.

They are also calling on the food industry to look at ways of making it easier for parents and carers to select healthier food options for their children.

The research compared the nutritional quality of packed lunches brought into a sample of primary schools in 2006 and then in 2016. Their results, showing how the nutritional quality of lunchboxes has changed over ten years, is published today in BMJ Open.

Dr Charlotte Evans, an expert in diet and health and Associate Professor in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, led the research.

She said: “This study underlines the role that parents, carers, the Government and the food industry have in ensuring children eat more healthily.

“The research has found that on some fronts, packed lunches have improved but they are still dominated by sweet and savoury snack food and sugary drinks. The vast majority provide poor nutritional quality. Addressing that issue over the next ten years will require a concerted effort.

“Improving what children eat at school will help reduce the risk of childhood obesity.”

The researchers argue that measures to increase fruit, vegetable and water consumption are “…critically needed”. They say providing free salad vegetables at primary school for children having a packed lunch could be one way to achieve this.

Some local authorities are working with schools to improve the nutritional quality of packed lunches.

Leeds City Council is one of those local authorities.

Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Children and Families,  said: “Ensuring children and young people have healthy and nutritious meals is a key priority for Leeds City Council and our Health and Wellbeing service offers regular support, advice and training for schools on how they can promote healthier packed lunches.

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