Brescia professor examines packed lunched in CIHR funded study

September 7, 2012

London, ON –Dr. Paula Dworatzek, Associate Professor of Foods and Nutritional Sciences at Brescia University College, together with Dr. Marina Salvadori, Pediatrician, and Ms. Lesley Macaskill, lecturer and former public health nutritionist have developed a unique study, “Let’s Understand Nutrition and Children’s Health in Elementary School” (L.U.N.C.H.E.S.), for which they have received a research funding grant worth $120,000 over two years from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR). The study examines children’s packed lunches, assessing intake during the traditional schedule and the balanced school day, through direct observation by trained undergraduate nutrition students. Dr. Dworatzek explains, “The Balanced School Day schedule is an alternative to the traditional elementary school schedule, whereby recess and lunch breaks are reorganized into two nutrition/physical activity breaks. The balanced schedule originated at one Ontario school in 2000, and the concept has since been implemented in well over 1,000 schools in Ontario and other provinces. The intention is to improve the school learning environment by providing 100-minute blocks of instructional time. However, the total amount of eating time in the balanced schedule is double that of the traditional schedule and there is a lack of research studying the impact of this change on children’s food intake during school. While it is thought that these two nutrition breaks are beneficial, it is also possible that the provision of two ‘mini-meals’ could have a negative impact on food intake and obesity. This is a major public health concern given that 25% of Canadian children are identified as overweight or obese. Children spend a significant amount of time at school, and foods eaten there are important contributors to their total daily intake. So research studying the nutritional impact of the balanced school day schedule is needed.”

This study aims to investigate the nutritional value of packed lunch contents and intake of students in the two schedules. In addition, a parental survey – to capture factors which may impact student intake and a comparison of the prevalence of overweight and obesity will be assessed in the two schedules. This research will be useful for school boards and public health units to understand the nutritional value of packed lunches. It may facilitate future work on interventions to improve nutritional quality of packed lunches.

Dworatzek feels there are a number of reasons this type of research needs to be done. There is a lot of emphasis on changing and/or enhancing the foods environment to help people make good choices. Policies that control what food and beverage can be sold in schools don’t address the fact that most food eaten during the school day is from home. “These policies don’t necessarily address issues with children’s food intake because they are not targeting the home-packed food intake.” Dworatzek also notes, “The balanced school day is changing food habits at an early age, which may or may not be beneficial. The research in Canada is minimal. Not only will this research determine whether there are differences in packed lunch between the two schedules, it will also help to address ongoing concerns about packed lunch contents and intake.”

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Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is affiliated with Western University. The 1,275 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more current and archived news, a listing of faculty experts, and photos please visit our Online Media Room at