In 2006 a major initiative to improve school food in England was launched. For the first time since 1980 new food (type of food offered) and nutrient-based (proportion of nutrient requirements) standards for school lunch were announced. Primary and secondary schools were required to be fully compliant by September 2009.
As the process of implementation began in Sept 2006, it was only possible to assess the impact of the change in policy on food and nutrient intake both in and out of school from previous dietary data collected in schools in the North east of England.
A mixed methods approach was used to collect data at both school and individual level from the two-age groups in Newcastle and Northumberland, North east England. Dietary, anthropometric and socio-economic data were collected using identical quantitative methods pre, mid and post-implementation of the school food policy. Data on food eaten at school (school or packed lunch) and throughout the day were collected. A qualitative approach was used to examine the process of implementation and obtain information from all key stakeholders including head teachers, school governors, caterers, teachers, children and parents; work in this area was led by Martine Stead of Stirling University who has expertise in process analysis.
This study adds to knowledge and understanding of the role of school food in meeting the nutritional needs of children. The results demonstrate the efficacy of recent changes in the school food regulations on bringing about positive change in school food and perhaps more imperative the positive influence this has on total diet of children.
Martin White, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University