The study’s authors aimed to alter the school environment to encourage healthier choices, through introducing lower-calorie foods, providing clearer nutrition labelling, and introducing lower prices for lower-calorie foods and drinks, alongside an educational programme.
The researchers involved 19 schools in an intervention group, in which students were educated about low-calorie food and drink options over a six-month period while changes were made to the products available in vending machines, and they were compared with 19 schools at which students did not receive the intervention.
After the study period, they found that students who had received the educational intervention had greater knowledge of nutrition, energy intake and portion size than those in the control group. However, there was little difference in the number or type of products students purchased.
“The intervention had limited effects on students' knowledge and self-reported behaviour, and no effect on their beliefs regarding low-calorie beverages, sweets or snacks,” the study’s authors wrote. “We recommend a combined educational and environmental intervention of longer duration and engaging parents.”
The researchers also found no significant impact on self-reported purchase of soft drinks and extra foods like cakes and sweets from inside or outside of the schools.
“More research into the effects of such interventions is needed,” the authors concluded.
The Dutch government does not impose any rules on the kinds of foods that schools are allowed to provide, but many schools have their own health-promoting policies. The researchers said other studies have suggested that changes in the school food environment impact students’ consumption of sugary drinks, energy dense foods and fruit and vegetables.
“There is also some evidence on the influence of the local food environment on adolescents’ nutritional behaviour,” they wrote. “While environmental factors influence behaviour indirectly through personal beliefs, they also have a direct influence that leads to automatic behaviours independent of an individual’s cognitions.
“However, there is still only limited evidence from experimental studies on the indirect and direct mechanisms of change in the school food environment.”
Source: Public Health Nutrition
Vol. 18, Iss. 9, pp. 1545–1553 doi:10.1017/S1368980014002985
“Students’ beliefs and behaviour regarding low-calorie beverages, sweets or snacks: are they affected by lessons on healthy food and by changes to school vending machines?”
Authors: Paul L Kocken, Nicole MC van Kesteren, Goof Buijs, Jeltje Snel and Elise Dusseldorp