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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOPMENT AND PREVENTION OF CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: School lunches and lunches brought from home: A comparative analysis

Authors
item Johnston, Craig -
item Moreno, Jennette -
item El-Mubasher, Abeer -
item Woehler, Deborah -

Submitted to: Childhood Obesity
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 19, 2012
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
Citation: Johnston, C.A., Moreno, J.P., El-Mubasher, A., Woehler, D. 2012. School lunches and lunches brought from home: A comparative analysis. Childhood Obesity. 8(4):364-368.

Interpretive Summary: The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has made a great effort to make school meals healthier. However, a large number of children still do not obtain their meals from school but instead bring lunch from home. There are a few studies that have looked at the items of these lunches. This study looked at the differences between school lunch and lunch brought from home. Second graders were observed on three different days, and 38.5% of students brought their lunch from home. When we compared the home lunch to school lunch, we found that children with a lunch brought from home were significantly less likely to have fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Children with a lunch from home were more likely to have snacks high in sugar and/or fat and non-100% fruit juice/fruit drink than children with a school lunch. The NSLP has been widely criticized, but our results show that there are advantages to children obtaining lunches from school. These results show that lunches brought from home should be an area of focus for research and intervention.

Technical Abstract: Considerable effort has been put forth to improve the nutritional quality of school meals by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). However, a large percentage of children do not obtain their meals from school and instead bring lunch from home. Little research has focused on the content of these lunches. The purpose of the current study was to examine differences between school lunch and lunch brought from home. Children in the second grade from seven schools in a large suburban school district were observed on three separate days. A total of 2,107 observations were made, with 38.5% of these being lunches brought from home. Chi square analyses evaluated differences in the presence of specific food items between school lunch and lunch brought from home. Compared to children with a school lunch, children with a lunch brought from home were significantly less likely to have fruits (75.9% vs. 45.3%), vegetables (29.1% vs. 13.2%), and dairy (70.0% vs. 41.8%) (p less than .001). Children with a lunch from home were more likely to have snacks high in sugar and/or fat (17.5% vs. 60.0%) and non 100% fruit juice/fruit drink (0.3% vs. 47.2%) (p less than .001) than children with a school lunch. The NSLP has been widely criticized; however, conducting a comparison in this manner demonstrates advantages to children obtaining school lunches. Although it was beyond the scope of this study to examine diet quality (e.g., actual intake and nutrient/caloric density), these results provide compelling evidence that lunches brought from home should be an area of emphasis for research and intervention.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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