A Province-Wide School Nutrition Policy and Food Consumption in Elementary School Children in Prince Edward Island

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Objective: Although the majority of Canadian provinces have indicated that they have adopted new school nutrition policies, there have been few if any systematic evaluations of these policies. In Prince Edward Island, a nutrition policy for elementary schools was adopted province-wide in 2006. In the present study, we assessed the nutritional benefits of the new policy by examining changes in student food consumption prior to and one year following implementation of the policy.

Methods: We surveyed fifth and sixth grade children from 11 elementary schools in Prince Edward Island in 2001/02 (pre-policy implementation) and fifth and sixth grade children from the same 11 schools in 2007 (post-policy implementation). Food consumption was assessed using a self-administered validated food frequency questionnaire. We applied multilevel logistic regression to compare pre-/post-policy implementation differences in the proportion of students meeting Canada's Food Guide recommendations for vegetables and fruit (VF) and milk and alternatives (MA) and in the proportion of students consuming <3 servings of low nutrient dense foods (LNDF) daily.

Results: Relative to students in 2001/02, students surveyed in 2007 were 2.14 (95% CI 1.62-2.82) times more likely to report consuming less than three daily servings of LNDF and were more likely to meet recommendations for VF (OR 1.44, 95% CI 1.00-2.07) and MA (OR 1.27, 95% CI 0.98-1.64).

Conclusion: The present study is the first in Canada to show favourable changes in student food consumption that parallel the introduction of a school nutrition policy.

Key words: Nutrition; nutrition policy; nutrition surveys; dietary habits; school health; obesity

La traduction du résumé se trouve à la fin de l'article. Can J Public Health 2010;101(1):40-43.

Mots clés : nutrition; politique nutritionnelle; enquêtes sur la nutrition; habitudes alimentaires; services hygiène scolaire; obésité

Concerns regarding the quality of children's diets and rising rates of childhood obesity have received considerable attention in recent years.1-4 As of 2004, about 1.1 million (18%) Canadian boys and girls aged 2 to 17 years old were overweight, and another half million (8%) were obese.5 School-age children in Prince Edward Island (PEI) have the second highest rate of overweight (22%) in the country.5 These trends signify an important public health issue, given that recent reports indicate that obesity in childhood and adolescence persists or tracks into adulthood6,7 and is associated with chronic diseases and increased mortality.8,9 Canadian studies indicate that children's diets are not meeting current dietary recommendations, with low intakes of Vegetables and Fruit, Milk and Alternatives and Grain Products.10-12 Dietary surveys suggest that children in PEI have lower intakes of vegetables and fruit and higher intakes of low nutrient density foods (low nutrients relative to energy content, such as soft drinks or candy)13 compared to Ontario children.14 Since poor diet quality and inadequate physical activity have been identified as key determinants of the observed increase in childhood overweight and obesity, there is an urgent need to implement preventive policies and programs designed to improve diet and physical activity in Canadian children.15,16

The school food environment is increasingly recognized as having a significant influence over children's eating behaviours because of the amount of time spent at school and the large percentage of food intake consumed while at school.4,15 Some studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of policies in improving students' dietary intake by modifying the school food environment.16-22 One Canadian study provided persuasive evidence, for the first time, that comprehensive health promotion and wellness programs can have benefits for students.18,23 Students attending health-promoting schools in Nova Scotia were less likely to be obese, had healthier diets and were more physically active. …