A new study has found that Canadian children aren’t eating the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruit and dairy products during school hours and this is causing them to fall short of several daily dietary recommendations on school days.
According to the study by University of British Columbia researchers published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, children are consuming approximately one-third of their total daily calories during school hours, but intake of dairy products and key nutrients found in milk including calcium and vitamin D was lower during school hours compared to the rest of the school day.
Meanwhile, intake of less nutritious foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks and candies was relatively higher during school hours.
The researchers devised a School Healthy Eating Index (School-HEI), a score based on 11 key components of a healthy diet that examines the totality of foods and beverages consumed by Canadian children during school hours. The average score for of 53.4 points (out of a maximum of 100) for all Canadian children suggested substantial room for improvement.
The researchers also looked at sociodemographic information to examine whether any factors were associated with differences in diet quality among subgroups of children. They found that diet quality scores during school hours averaged nine points lower among children aged 14-17 compared to children aged 6-8. Children in Quebec, on average, scored at least five points higher than peers in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba. Children from families with post-secondary education had scores that averaged two points higher, enough to be statistically significant.
“Before this study, nobody in Canada had looked at actual differences in dietary intake patterns between school hours and non-school hours,” said lead author Claire Tugault-Lafleur, a PhD candidate in UBC’s human nutrition program. “If we want to inform nutrition policies and dietary interventions for schools, we have to look not only at foods consumed at school, but also examine the contribution of these foods to a child’s daily dietary intake. Very few people are looking at that.”