A new study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, found that children’s nutrition is suffering on school days. The research found that children were consuming one third of their recommended daily intake of calories at school yet key nutrients like calcium and vitamin A and D were found to be lacking during school hours. Perhaps not surprising they also found that children were consuming high levels of sugary drinks, salty snacks and candy during school hours.
The study used data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey involving 4,827 children across Canada between the ages of six and 17. The survey collected information about the food and beverages consumed by the children in the past 24 hours. The nutritional profile of foods consumed during school hours was compared with foods consumed outside of school hours by the University of British Columbia. Lead author of the research, Claire Tugault-Lafleur, a PhD candidate in UBC’s human nutrition program, said:
“Before this study, nobody in Canada had looked at actual differences in dietary intake patterns between school hours and non-school hours,” Claire added, “If we want to inform nutrition policies and dietary interventions for schools, we have to look not only at foods consumed at school, but also examine the contribution of these foods to a child’s daily dietary intake. Very few people are looking at that.”
Claire developed a School Healthy Eating Index based on 11 key components of a healthy diet. Using a grading system of 0-100, with o being very poor and 100 being a perfect healthy eating score the researchers found that the average score for Canada was 53.4 points, showing significant room for improvement.
Worryingly, the report is suggesting that the nutritional profile of foods consumed at school could be improved through increased intake of dairy products, which have been shown to increase risks to certain cancers, increase the amount of saturated fat linked to bad cholesterol and have been shown to not improve bone development and strength.
Given that Canada have decided to remove dairy as a food group from their healthy eating guidelines it seems odd that this report is recommending dairy for children. The report found that protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium were lacking during school hours. However a balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds would bean excellent alternative to dairy for infants and children.
Interest in these types of balanced vegetarian and vegan school meals are gaining in popularity around the world. The second largest public school in the US is trialling a vegan menu, a school in India has gone completely vegan and Geneva councillors are now hoping that all of its 47 schools will offer a daily vegetarian option. Administrative councillor Esther Alder said,
“We are receiving more requests, particularly from children’s parents.” She went on to say, “It wasn’t only to respond to requests but also for reasons of health and sustainability.”