Headlines: May 13th, 2008

Pupils at schools with fruit tuck shops are much more likely to use them if the school also bans them from bringing unhealthy snacks on to the premises, according to new research published online ahead of appearing in print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Researchers say the findings highlight the need for schools to back up health interventions.

A team from Cardiff University studied the snacking habits of 9-11 year olds at 43 schools in deprived areas of South Wales and the South West of England with a variety of policies on bringing food to school. Twenty-three of the schools were asked to start fruit tuck shops selling a variety of items at a fixed price and not to sell sweets and crisps as alternatives. All the schools continued with their current policies on pupils bringing in food.

During the year-long study, which was funded by the Food Standards Agency, the tuck shops sold about 70,000 pieces of fruit. At the end of the year the children were surveyed on how much fruit and other snacks they had eaten the previous day and how much fruit they and their friends were eating regularly at school.

The results show that fruit tuck shops alone had only a limited impact on children’s fruit consumption at school. The shops did, though, have a much greater impact in schools where there was also a ‘no food’ or ‘fruit only’ policy. In schools with no restrictions on the foods pupils could bring in fruit consumption was lower even where the school had a fruit tuck shop.

Professor Laurence Moore, from the Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics, said,” Our results suggest that children are more willing to use fruit tuck shops and eat fruit as a snack at school if they and their friends are not allowed to take in unhealthy snacks. This highlights the importance of friends’ behaviour and of peer modelling, and of the need for schools to put policies in place to back up health interventions.”