I’ve heard that Twitter has been abuzz this week with pics of nasty school lunches. As if in response, JAMA Pediatrics has a study looking at lunches brought from home:
Importance: The nutritional quality and cost of lunches brought from home are overlooked and understudied aspects of the school food environment.
Objectives: To examine the quality and cost of lunches brought from home by elementary and intermediate school students.
Design, Setting, and Participants: An observational study was conducted in 12 schools (8 elementary and 4 intermediate) in one Houston, Texas, area school district from October 6, 2011, to December 5, 2011. Participants included 242 elementary and 95 intermediate school students who brought lunches from home.
Exposures: Lunches brought from home.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Foods brought and amounts eaten were recorded along with student grade level and sex. Nutrient and food group content were calculated and compared with current National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines. Per-serving prices for each item were collected from 3 grocery stores in the study area and averaged.
Pretty simple study. Researchers looked at lunches students brought from home and figured out their nutritional content. They also compared what they found to National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines.
Lunches brought from home has fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains. They had more sodium. And they also had less milk (AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THAT). Almost all of the lunches from home had desserts, chips, and caloric beverages (which reimbursable school lunches can’t have). The cost of the lunches were $1.93 in grade school and $1.76 for middle school. Interestingly, students in the lower-income middle schools brought more expensive ($0.31 more) than students from middle-income schools.
Bottom line, lunches brought from home were nutritionally worse than NSLP guidelines would warrant. If we want to combat obesity, we need to pay attention to more than school-provided food.