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Better nutrition for NZ kids will take more than tackling tuck shops

Lecture theatre

Friday 30 July 2010 2:56pm

Kid eating a chip with a folkImproving New Zealand school children’s diets requires a much wider focus than just targeting unhealthy foods available at schools, University of Otago research suggests.

In a study published in the UK journal Public Health Nutrition, Department of Human Nutrition researchers compared the foods choices and nutrition of New Zealand children on schooldays and non-schooldays.

Among their findings were that on non-schooldays, which account for about half of the year, children’s average daily cholesterol intake is higher, their dietary fibre lower, and they are twice as likely to eat hot chips.

The research, which is based on interviews with 2572 children aged between 5 and 14, also shows that similar proportions of children ate pies or sausage rolls on schooldays and non-schooldays.

Co-author Associate Professor Winsome Parnell says the study’s findings highlight that it is naive to think removing unhealthier offerings from school tuck shops will provide a quick fix to children’s diets.

“We shouldn’t forget that only around one-third of a child’s daily energy intake is consumed during school time and for the majority of children this is primarily from food  provided by parents, for snacks and lunches rather than what’s being bought at the tuck shop,” Associate Professor Parnell says.

The study reinforces the fact that the family environment and what is provided from home is the mainstay of nutrition for New Zealand children, the researchers write.

Where improvement is needed to children’s diets, attention must be given to the foods provided by parents, regardless of where they are consumed, they conclude.

Associate Professor Parnell added that the findings suggest that parents should take more responsibility for their children’s food choices.

“For instance, children enjoy hot food during the day and need better access to options that are healthier than pies or chips.

“Not only should home refrigerators store suitable foods for heating up, but convenience stores, food outlets and canteens should offer a wider range of affordable and nutritious hot foods. For example, rice and pasta-based dishes could be more widely available as an alternative to pastry-based hot foods,” she says.

The study’s lead author is former Department of Nutrition Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Rockell, who is now at the University of Colorado, Denver. The research was based on analysing interview data from the Ministry of Health-funded 2002 Children’s Nutrition Survey.

For more information, contact

Associate Professor Winsome Parnell
Department of Human Nutrition
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 4272

Website: Human Nutrition

Publication details

Nutrients and foods consumed by New Zealand children on schooldays and nonschooldays
Jennifer Rockell, Winsome Parnell, Noela Wilson, Paula Skidmore and Asher Regan
Public Health Nutrition

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