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Health Promot Int. 2004 Mar;19(1):15-20.

Measuring the 'obesogenic' food environment in New Zealand primary schools.

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  • 1Department of Community Health, University of Auckland, New Zealand.


Childhood obesity is an increasing health problem in New Zealand and many other countries. Information is needed to guide interventions that reduce the 'obesogenic' (obesity-promoting) elements of school environments. The aim of this study was to identify and measure the obesogenic elements of the school environment and the canteen sales of energy-dense foods and drinks. A self-completion questionnaire was developed for assessing each school's nutrition environment and mailed to a stratified random sample of New Zealand schools. The responses from primary schools (n = 200, response rate 61%) were analysed. Only 15.5% of schools had purpose-built canteen facilities and over half ran a food service for profit (31% profit to the school, 24.5% profit for the contractors). Only 16.5% of schools had a food policy, although 91% of those rated the policy as effective or very effective. The most commonly available foods for sale were pies (79%), juice (57%) and sausage rolls (54.5%). Filled rolls were the most expensive item (mean dollars 1.79) and fruit the least expensive (mean dollars 0.47). The ratio of 'less healthy' to 'more healthy' main choices was 5.6:1, for snacks it was 9.3:1 and for drinks it was 1.4:1. In contrast, approximately 60% of respondents said that nutrition was a priority for the school. Only 50% felt there was management support for healthy food choices and only 39% agreed that mainly nutritious food was offered by the food service. 'Less healthy' choices dominated food sales by more than 2:1, with pies being the top selling item (>55000 per week). We found that the food environment was not conducive to healthy food choices for the children at New Zealand schools and that this was reflected in the high sales of relatively unhealthy foods from the school food services. Programmes that improve school food through policies, availability, prices and school ethos are urgently needed.

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