Background & Aims: School canteens represent the most frequently used food outlet by children in New South Wales, Australia, with a higher frequency of lunch purchases positively associated with child overweight and obesity. Despite this little is known about the nutritional quality of student purchases from school canteens. The aim of this study was to assess the nutritional quality of primary school student canteen lunch purchases including the; i) mean energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium content; ii) percent of energy from saturated fat and sugar and; iii) proportion and types of foods purchased that are healthier (green) and less healthy (amber/red) according to a state school canteen policy.
Methods: A cross sectional study was undertaken of 1,666 student lunch purchases from 18 government primary school canteens in the Hunter region of New South Wales Australia. Student purchase data were collected via a one day observation in consenting school canteens.
Results: On average students’ lunch purchases contained 685kJ of energy, 1.8g of saturated fat, 12.7g of total sugar and 151.4mg of sodium with 9.5% energy from saturated fat and 31.8% energy from sugar. Less healthy items represented 76% of all items purchased with ‘sugar sweetened ice blocks and slushies’ (13%) and ‘savoury pastries’ (11%) being the most common types of foods purchased by students at lunch.
Conclusion: There is considerable scope to improve the nutritional quality of student lunch purchases from primary school canteens. Future research is required to identify effective strategies that encourage the purchase of healthier foods from school canteens.