Calls for a greener menu in Australian school canteens

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Students eating lunch in cafeteria, portrait.
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Menus at Australian state schools could do better according to new research, compiled by Monash University and VicHealth for online advocacy group The Parents’ Jury.

A review of 263 school menus across Australia identified 30 per cent of surveyed primary schools and less than 19 per cent of surveyed secondary schools were compliant with nutrition guidelines.

Based on feedback from concerned parents, The Parents’ Jury with the support of Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and VicHealth undertook research to investigate the nutritional composition of online government school canteen menus across Australia.

“University partnerships with organisations such as VicHealth and the Parents’ Jury are important in contributing to evidence,” Dr Claire Palermo said.

“The data and further research will provide even stronger evidence of school canteens compliance with food and nutrition policy.”

It found vast differences in compliance among different states and territories. Western Australia, where compliance is compulsory, leads the way with 62 per cent of surveyed menus adhering to the state’s Healthy Food and Drink policy.

The next best performing states/territories are South Australia and the Northern Territory where, respectively, 35 per cent and 29 per cent of surveyed schools adhere to their school nutrition policy.

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The poorest performing states/territories are the ACT with 5 per cent, Victoria with 16 per cent and Queensland with 18 per cent of surveyed menus complying with their individual policies and guidelines.

In spite of the healthy eating messages consistently taught in Australian schools, the survey found 56 per cent of all surveyed menus feature chocolate or other forms of confectionary and over 96 per cent surveyed schools feature pastry products as a regular part of the menu. Over 38 per cent of menus across all surveyed secondary schools feature soft drink.

The study also looked at menu pricing and found that 87 per cent of all surveyed schools serve pies regularly on their menus, whereas 69 per cent serve salads. The average price for a pie is $3.17 and the average price for a salad is $3.83. In some states and territories, the difference was over $1.00 with the salad item as the more expensive option.

Source: Monash University

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Date Created: March 29, 2013