A new study from the University of British Columbia has found that children of college-educated parents are more likely to eat healthy foods at school.
Researchers suggests that children of parents who have at least some post-secondary education eat more vegetables and eat less sugar during the school week. However, the study also found that all students are falling short in their healthy eating decisions while at school.
The study looked at almost 1,000 school children in Vancouver in 26 public schools from grades 5-8, asking them to keep track of their food intake while at school, as well as walking to and from.
Findings included those children whose parents had completed at least some portion of a higher education degree were 85% more likely to eat vegetables during school than those children whose parents had completed high school or less. Children whose parents completed their post-secondary degrees were 67% less likely to consume sugary drinks.
“We can only speculate on the reasons for the disparities,” says co-author Jennifer Black, a food, nutrition and health professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “Higher priced products, like vegetables, may not be the food that gets packed first for vulnerable families that need to make tough choices about school lunches.”
The study also discovered that all children, no matter their socio-economic standings, need to eat more whole grains and drink more low-fat milk during school hours. Currently, students are opting for French fries or potato chips.
“While there are still barriers that exist for low-income children, families from across the socioeconomic spectrum are struggling to get their kids to eat healthy food at school,” says Black. “Our findings challenge this common notion that only low-income families feed their kids junk food because it appears wealthy families are not always making healthier choices either.”
Less than half of the students who participated in the study reported eating whole grains, low-fat milk, or fruits and vegetables, while 17% reported consuming fast food options, 20% admitted to packaged snack foods, and 31% said they have a sugary beverage on a daily basis.
An astounding 15% reported going hungry.
“Our study provides new insight on what kids are eating, or not eating, in Vancouver public schools,” says co-author Naseam Ahmadi, a M.Sc. graduate in human nutrition. “Overall, things aren’t looking so good. More work is needed to address the dietary needs of children when they go off to school.”
The study is part of a five-year collaboration with Vancouver School Board called the Think&EatGreen@School Project, geared toward promoting healthy eating in schools.
A similar study released last year suggested Americans are developing healthy eating habits, with the top 10 foods consumed at home including sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, carbonated soft drinks, milk, coffee, potatoes, salty snacks, fruit juice and cold cereal. A rise was seen in those individuals consuming fruit.