Monitoring the Menu: A Review of School Meals
The April Nutrition Society Paper of the month is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled ‘School food standards in the UK: implementation and evaluation’.
In January 2012, the Children’s Food Trust hosted an international workshop on school food to examine the relationships between evidence and policy. Fifty delegates from over 20 countries met to present papers, discuss and debate key issues, and make recommendations that strengthen global commitment to improving the evidence base that helps to inform policy development and evaluate policy impact.
The first session of the workshop set out the issues relating to policy development and evaluation in three countries: the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Each presentation illustrated key features of the country’s policy and evidence base. Because of the recent evolution of policy in the four countries of the United Kingdom since 2000 and the many parallels and differences between them, the paper by Adamson et al describes the contrasting approaches to the development of standards, their implementation, and gathering of evidence to inform policy within ostensibly similar settings. The paper provides an overview of relevant policies, surveys and evaluations, including country specific surveys and regional evaluations relating to school food programmes in primary and secondary schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
By September 2013 standards will have been introduced in all primary and secondary schools in the UK. Evaluations have varied in their scope and timing, relating to government forward planning, appropriate baselines, and funding. Where standards have been implemented, the quality and nutritional value of food provided has improved. Emerging evidence shows improved overall diet and nutrient intake by school-aged children as a result. The re-introduction of school food standards in the UK has not been centrally coordinated, but by September 2013 will be compulsory across all four countries in the UK, except in England where Academies and Free Schools are now exempt. Provision of improved school food has had a demonstrable impact on diet and nutrition beyond the school dining room and the school gate, benefitting children from all socio-economic groups. Improved school food and dining environments are associated with higher levels of school lunch take up. Implementation of school food standards requires investment. The paper sets out the argument, with evidence, that it is critical to policy development that the value of this investment is measured using planned, appropriate, robust and timely evaluations. Where appropriate, evaluations should be carried out across government departments and between countries.
‘School Food Research: building the evidence base for policy’, Nelson M and Breda J, Public Health Nutrition (In Press)
Nutrition Society Paper of the Month
Each month a paper is selected by one of the Editors of the five Nutrition Society Publications (British Journal of Nutrition, Public Health Nutrition, Nutrition Research Reviews, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and Journal of Nutritional Science). This paper is freely available for one month.