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Research Project: Preventing the Development of Childhood Obesity

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Gender differences in nutritional quality and consumption of lunches brought from home to school

Author
item SONG, SIWAN - TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
item ISHDORJ, ARIUN - TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
item DAVE, JAYNA - CHILDREN'S NUTRITION RESEARCH CENTER (CNRC)

Submitted to: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/13/2021
Publication Date: 12/14/2021
Citation: Song, S., Ishdorj, A., Dave, J.M. 2021. Gender differences in nutritional quality and consumption of lunches brought from home to school. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 18(24). Article 13168. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182413168.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182413168

Interpretive Summary: On a typical school day in the US, students can either participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and receive free, reduced price or low-cost full price meals, or bring packed lunches from home. To ensure that meals offered will be of high nutritional quality and further to expect the possibility of reducing risk of chronic diseases and obesity, the new school nutrition standards and meal requirements were implemented in 2012. However, approximately 40% of school children bring lunches from home. These lunches are not subject to federal standards and not consistently monitored as school lunches are. The purpose of the study was to assess gender difference in the lunches brought from home to school and amount consumed by elementary and intermediate school students using data collected from 12 schools in southeast Texas. Amount and nutritional quality of food items brought and consumed was evaluated by comparing the results to the 2012 NSLP guidelines and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). Results indicate that on average, lunches brought from home to school tend not to be nutritionally balanced when compared to NSLP guidelines and DRIs. Regardless of the gender, majority of students didn't bring milk, fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods to school, but those who brought, consumed most of what they brought. More girls than boys brought and consumed vegetables than boys; this difference was significant between intermediate girls and boys. Therefore, parents and students should be encouraged to pack more of these foods for lunch. In addition, this study found that nutritional quality of lunches brought from home and consumed differed by gender and these differences varied by school level. Developing nutrition education materials and interventions for parents and children, considering strategies to improve the nutritional quality of lunches brought from home in view of gender difference in food choices, can be effective in improving nutritional quality of lunches brought from home and consumed. Furthermore, increasing enrollment in the NSLP could help ensure that more students receive nutritionally adequate balanced lunches.

Technical Abstract: Gender difference in the lunches brought from home to school and the amount consumed by elementary and intermediate school students were examined using data collected from 12 schools in Texas. The amount and nutritional quality of food items brought and consumed was evaluated, by comparing the results to the 2012 school meal standards, and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). Almost all lunches brought from home contained grain and meat/meat alternatives, and the amount brought and consumed exceeded the NSLP standards. The majority of students did not bring fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, but those who brought consumed most of what they brought. Among elementary school students, only 9% of boys and 14% of girls brought vegetables and the amount brought and consumed did not meet the standards. Although carbohydrate and protein consumption were adequate for boys and girls, the intakes of micronutrients and fiber did not meet the requirements across both genders at both school levels. Overall, lunches brought from home were not well balanced and did not meet NSLP standards and DRIs. It is imperative to identify strategies to improve the nutritional quality of lunches brought from home considering gender difference in food choice and educating parents and children on what is a healthy well-balanced lunch.