Reporting in this month's issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition scientists at Deakin university advised that snack foods and biscuits take a back seat in favour of fruit and water.
Setting out to determine differences in the contribution of foods and beverages to energy consumed in and out of school, and to compare consumption patterns between school canteen users and noncanteen users, the study of 1656 children aged 5-15 years old who had weekday 24 hour dietary recall data.
The researchers found that an average of 37 per cent of total energy intake was consumed at school with a large part provided by 'energy-dense foods and beverages', such as fat spreads, packaged snacks, biscuits and fruit/cordial drinks. Fast foods and soft drinks contributed 11 per cent and 3 per cent of the total energy intake, but these food groups were mostly consumed out of school, said the researchers.
Fruit intake was low but, perhaps surprisingly, consumption was greater in school. In total, 14 per cent of children bought food from the canteen and they obtained more energy from fast food, packaged snacks, desserts, milk and confectionary than non-canteen users.
' Energy-dense foods and beverages are over-represented in the Australian school environment,' conclude the researchers, pushing for biscuits, snack bars and fruit/cordial drinks to be brought from home and an end to fast foods, packaged snacks, and confectionary from the school canteen.
Obesity is one of the main causes of non-communicable diseases. The economic and healthcare costs of NCDs are already high in many developed countries. In the US alone that cost has risen to more than $120 billion annually.
According to the UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO), in developed countries, obesity, diabetes and other NCDs account for a heavy slice of healthcare costs.
The World Health Organization estimates that in 1995 there were 200 million obese adults worldwide and another 18 million under-five children classified as overweight. In 2000, this number lept up to over 300 million, with over 115 million people suffering from obesity-related problems in the developing countries.