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Are lunches brought from home or purchased at school more nutritious?

At schools up and down the west coast, children are sitting down for a mid-day meal and refueling on goodies from their lunchbox or lunch tray. Surprisingly, students who went through the cafeteria food line may be eating healthier, according to findings presented this week the Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting.

In the study, researchers from the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston analyzed the contents of 2,107 lunches of second graders at seven schools during three randomly selected days. The schools were part of the Fort Bend Independent School District, which serves an ethnically diverse student population. Overall, 38.5 percent of the lunches were brought from home. Medpage Today reports that study results showed:

Compared with the school lunch, those packed at home were significantly less likely to include the following foods

* Fruits: 45.3% versus 75.9%
* Vegetables: 13.2% versus 29.1%
* Dairy: 41.8% versus 70%

And they were more likely to contain snacks that were high in sugar or fat (60% versus 17.5%) and non-100% fruit juice or other fruit drinks (47.2% versus 0.3%), both of which have been shown to contribute to weight gain in children.

Although I was amazed at the researchers' findings, I wonder if the results would be the same if the study was conducted in different states regions of country. As this map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, Texas has a greater prevalence of childhood obesity. It would be interesting to see a similar evaluation of school lunches done in Colorado or New York state.

Previously: How should pediatricians talk about obesity?, Children and obesity: What can parents do to help?, How to combat childhood obesity? Try everything, Study shows federal school lunch program doesn't make the grade and School nutrition standards come into the 21st century
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

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