School canteens: A systematic review of the policy, perceptions and use from an Australian perspective

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Abstract

Aim:

This review aimed to identify current research related to the use of school canteens in Australia, with a focus on their food and drink policy. In Australia, approximately 25% of 5–17-year olds are considered overweight and obese. Up to 41% of energy intake for children aged between 4 and 18 years is found to come from discretionary foods. The structured nature of the school environment provides an ideal environment to address childhood obesity and encourage a culture of healthy eating.

Methods:

A systematic review of three key nutrition databases: ‘CINAHL’, ‘Academic search complete’ and ‘Medline’ (inception to 2015) was conducted. Inclusion criteria were: Australian, peer-reviewed studies; studies regarding the purchase of food from school canteens; canteen studies involving students aged 5–18 years, school principals, parents, canteen managers, Parent and Citizen Association members and teachers.

Results:

The search identified 2741 studies with 12 meeting the inclusion criteria. In the main, studies were descriptive in nature with data summarised into four categories: (i) characteristics of canteens; (ii) canteen use and food availability; (iii) stakeholder perceptions and the role of school canteens; and (iv) compliance with policies and the barriers to healthy food implementation. Overall, compliance with healthy canteen policies was low, guidelines were rarely adhered to in terms of product provision and children had preferences for non-healthy foods.

Conclusions:

Strategies to improve compliance, overcome the challenges and encourage stakeholder buy-in are necessary if food habits are to be changed and healthy cultures developed within the school environment.

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