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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Packed lunches compared to school lunches

item Palcic, Jennette
item El-mubasher, Abeer
item Johnston, Craig
item Papaioannou, Maria
item Holmes, Christian
item Woehler, Deborah
item Foreyt, John

Submitted to: Obesity
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/3/2011
Publication Date: 11/3/2011
Citation: Palcic, J., El-Mubasher, A.A., Johnston, C.A., Papaioannou, M.A., Holmes, C.E., Woehler, D.L., Foreyt, J.P. 2011. Packed lunches compared to school lunches [abstract]. Obesity. 19:S207.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Considerable effort has been put forth to improve the nutritional quality of school meals provided by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). However, a large percentage of children do not obtain their meals from school but 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 (SL) and lunch brought from home (LFH). Children in the second grade from 7 schools in a large suburban school district were observed on 3 separate days. A total of 2,107 observations were made, with 37.5% of these being LFH. Chi square analyses were used to evaluate differences in the presence of specific food items between SL and LFH. Compared to children with a SL, children with a LFH 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 < .001). Children with a LFH 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 < .001). The NSLP has been widely criticized; however, conducting a comparison in this manner clearly demonstrates advantages to children obtaining lunches from school. 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: 10/16/2017
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