Scoping study investigating stakeholder perceptions and use of school canteens in an Australian city

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Abstract

Aim

To investigate stakeholder perceptions of healthy food availability in school canteens, the promotion of healthy foods and canteen policy compliance.

Methods

This is a cross-sectional study of Catholic and independent primary and high schools comprising three investigative phases: (i) survey of 39 schools, (ii) survey of canteen managers and parents from 10 schools and (iii) an audit of school menus against National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines.

Results

Total participants included: 6 principals, no canteen mangers and 86 parents from two schools; 24 menus were audited. Schools are committed to supporting healthy eating, with participants agreeing canteens should follow the National Health School Canteen Guidelines. A total of 94% of parents (n = 81/86) indicated that their children buy food from the school canteen, with commonly purchased items mostly classified as ‘red’. Despite this food choice, parents (n = 32/48) indicated they had a responsibility to encourage healthy eating. No school canteen menu comprised +50% ‘green’ foods and thus did not comply with the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines.

Conclusions

Despite the intense focus on school canteens to sell healthy food, little has changed in terms of student's food choices and the barriers to providing healthy options. The external environment and divided parental buy-in impact the canteen's ability to comply with guidelines. A holistic approach involving all stakeholder levels is required to successfully achieve a healthy school canteen environment and positively influence student's food habits and choices.

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