School Kids’ Packed Lunches Are Just as Bad as They Were Ten Years Ago

Surveying packed lunches in primary schools across England, researchers from the University of Leeds found that just 1.6 percent met the nutritional standards required of the meals served in school canteens.

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Sep 7 2016, 12:00pm

Let's be honest, the best bit about a school packed lunch was always the chocolate bar at the end, wolfed down after you'd reluctantly eaten your cheese and cucumber sandwich with absolutely no crusts and taken a half-hearted bite out of a fun size banana.

But it seems the much-loved pack-up could be contributing to Britain's growing childhood obesity problem. A new survey from the University of Leeds has found that just 1.6 percent of primary schoolchildren's packed lunches meets the nutritional standards required by meals served in school canteens—an increase of only 0.5 percent compared to a similar study conducted ten years ago.

READ MORE: One Third of British Kids Leaves Primary School Obese or Overweight

Published yesterday, researchers at the University's School of Food and Nutrition surveyed 323 packed lunches from primary schools across England in the last week of June this year. It compared the lunches' nutritional values against the standards set by the Government for meals provided by schools. These guidelines restrict sugary drinks, sweets, and crisps, and ensure every meal includes fruit, vegetables, and protein

However, the Leeds study found that 60 percent of the packed lunches contained crisps and 52 percent confectionary, making them among the most common items brought into school for lunch. Sandwiches were the most popular item, appearing in 83 percent of packed lunches, compared to salad, which was found in just 17 percent.

But those Tupperware boxes did contain some good news. The report found that sugary drink consumption in packed lunches had fallen from 61 percent in 2006 to 46 percent this year, but acknowledged that "there is still a long way to go until packed lunches provide a healthy alternative to school meals for the majority of children."

READ MORE: The Government Finally Released Its Childhood Obesity Strategy But People Aren't Happy

The study comes in the wake of news earlier this week that one third of British schoolchildren will leave primary school obese or overweight. University of Leeds nutritional epidemiologist and the report's lead researcher Charlotte Evans said in a press release that more needed to be done to improve the standard of schoolchildren's lunches.

She said: "I hope the results of the study are an eye-opener, highlighting that more stringent policies need to be introduced if we want to see real change in the nutritional value of children's packed lunches."

It could be time to swap that KitKat for a kiwi fruit.