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Kids Eat Too Much Fat at School

Bagged Lunches Leaner than Cafeteria Fare

WebMD Health News

Jan. 10, 2003 -- Many children may be getting more than their healthy share of fat from their school lunches. A new study shows that some middle school students are eating excessive amounts of fat from lunches served in their school's cafeteria.

Researchers measured the fat content of meals eaten at 24 middle schools in California over a five-day period and found school-provided lunches had the highest fat content. The average fat content of a cafeteria-cooked lunch was 31 grams, compared with only 21 grams found in bag lunches students brought from home and 14 grams in school-provided breakfasts.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that breakfasts and lunches provided by schools follow U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which recommend eating no more than 30% of total calories as fat per day. Considering most children eat about a third of their daily calories at school, researchers say they should generally eat about 20 grams of fat at school.

But the study found that the average student consumed about 26 grams of total fat at school. Cafeteria lunches alone accounted for almost half of the calories consumed from fat.

Researcher James. F. Sallis, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues say that a la carte items, such as pizza, candy, and baked goods that are served alongside school lunches in vending machines and student-run stores, are major contributors to the excess fat intake.

Researchers found students supplemented their meals with these higher-fat a la carte items, which packed an average of more than 13 grams of fat per item.

But the researchers found that the students who brought bag lunches from home consumed only about a quarter of their daily fat intake at school.

"The relatively low-fat content of bag lunches suggested they were viewed as more healthful alternatives to school food sources by parents and students," write the researchers. "The school food environment, especially in terms of food provided or sold at the school, is in continuing need of improvement."

Their study appears in a recent issue Preventive Medicine.

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