Do children’s diets suffer during school hours?

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Image: gpointstudio/Istock.com via AFP Relaxnews

New research has found that Canadian children are falling short of dietary recommendations on school days, by not eating enough vegetables, fruit and dairy products during school hours.

Carried out by the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, the team looked at data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey involving 4,827 children across Canada between the ages of six and 17.

Participants were asked to report on the food and beverages they consumed in the past 24 hours, with the researchers comparing the nutritional value of foods consumed during school hours (between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.) with foods consumed outside of school hours.

The results showed that children consumed approximately one-third of their total daily calories during school hours, but their intake of dairy products and the key nutrients found in milk, such as calcium and vitamin D, as well as vitamins such as A and B12, were at least 20 percent lower during school hours compared with non-school hours.

In addition, their consumption of less nutritious foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks and candies was higher during school hours.

When looking at sociodemographic factors that might play a role in the quality of diets of different subgroups of children, the team found that children from families with post-secondary education had scores that averaged two points higher, enough to be statistically significant.

Age also made a difference, with the diet quality of children aged 14 to 17 found to be lower than those aged 6 to 8.

“Before this study, nobody in Canada had looked at actual differences in dietary intake patterns between school hours and non-school hours,” said lead author Claire Tugault-Lafleur, commenting on the findings. “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.”

The team now is now looking at comparing their findings from the 2004 data with those collected during the 2015 Canada Community Healthy Survey in order to see which various initiatives or school nutrition policies might have made improvements in diet quality during school hours in those 11 years.

They believe the findings suggest that the nutritional value of foods consumed at school could be potentially improved with increased intake of dairy products, thereby increasing intakes of protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.

The findings can be found in the journal “Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism”. JB

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