Nutrition of Irish children

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Nutritional quality of the school-day diet in Irish children (5–12 years)

Walton et al., JHND Early View

Background

The European Commission has identified schools as a priority setting for health promotion, including nutrition education and intervention. The present study examined the school-day diet of Irish primary-school children with the aim of identifying opportunities for dietary improvement.

Methods

Data from The National Children’s Food Survey (2003–2004) were used to establish a dataset of school-days. Dietary intake data were collected from 594 children (5–12 years) using a 7-day weighed food-record. The nutritional quality of the diet was examined for the total school-day and for food eaten ‘before school’, ‘at school’ and ‘after school’.

Results

Examination of dietary intake on school-days has highlighted nutritional imbalances for intakes of fat, saturated fat, added sugars, sodium and dietary fibre (DF). Mean energy (E) intake for the overall school-day was 7.1 MJ, with 16% of energy provided from food eaten ‘before school’, 33%E from food eaten ‘at school’ and 53% of energy from food eaten ‘after school’. Relative to the overall school-day, food eaten ‘before school’ was lower in saturated fat and sodium, and higher in DF and many micronutrients. Food eaten ‘at school’ was relatively high in added sugars and sodium; lower in DF and micronutrients; and similar in saturated fat compared to the overall school-day. Food eaten ‘after school’ was relatively high in DF and vitamin A; similar in saturated fat, magnesium and sodium; and lower in added sugars and other micronutrients compared to the overall school-day.

Conclusions

To improve the overall nutritional quality of the school-day diet, food eaten at school should be targeted.

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