British children eat 5.5bn packed lunches each year, but research from the University of Leeds shows that only 1% of their lunchboxes meet the tough nutritional standards that have been set for their classmates on school meals. The findings were described as "appalling" by children's health campaigners, who want all children to be given free, nutritious school meals.
About half of all children in England take a packed lunch to school. In the first study of its kind, the Leeds research team, commissioned by the government's food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, found that 82% of their lunchboxes contained foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, with items chosen by parents including crisps, sweets and biscuits. Only one in five packed lunches contained any vegetables or salad and about half included an item of fruit – yet in the overwhelming majority of cases, even these fell well below the standards demanded of school dinners.
The first statutory school meal standards were introduced in 2006 due to growing evidence linking poor health in adults with obesity or poor diet in childhood. They limit the amount of foods high in salt, sugar and fats that can be served and stipulate that school meals must provide a third of the daily requirement of every nutrient for health. And although the schools watchdog, Ofsted, says schools must have a policy on packed lunches, there is no legislative imperative for them to comply with the same nutritional standards that are applied in the canteen.
Fewer than half of children's packed lunches met the government's 2008 nutrient standards, including levels of vitamin A, folate, iron and zinc. On average, girls tended to be given more healthy foodstuffs than boys, and children at schools with fewer pupils... [continues]
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