Lunch and break timing affects kids' food choices and activity


Ask kids what their favourite part of the school day is and most will say lunch and "recess" (break) times. But the timing of these events matters when it comes to what children eat and how much physical activity they get, researchers report.

(Readers need to be aware of the fact that while in South Africa "big break" and "lunch time" are synonymous, in the US "recess" and "lunch" are separate events.)

The new findings could help schools develop policies to promote healthy eating and exercise habits for kids, the study authors said.

Influence of duration and timing

"Overall, our findings suggest that recess and lunch behaviours are interrelated. However, the specific food choices and activity levels children engage in may be subject to the timing and duration of lunch and recess," researcher Gabriella McLoughlin said in an American Society for Nutrition news release.

McLoughlin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is scheduled to present the research at the society's annual meeting in Chicago.

For the study, researchers analysed what 151 fourth- and fifth-graders at two schools ate for lunch and their physical activity. All ate lunch right before or right after recess.

Most research has focused on nutritional intake or physical activity during the main break. Study leader Naiman Khan called this the first "to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity, and consider the influence of duration and timing."

Khan is an assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at the university.

A stable source of nutrition

The researchers discovered that students who had recess before eating lunch wasted less food. But kids who had lunch before recess ate more vegetables.

Researchers say this schedule and how much time kids have to eat and play could have unwanted effects on what they eat and how much exercise they get.

Parents should prepare lunches with energy that will provide a stable source of nutrition to feed their brain for the duration of the school day, Health24 advises.

A healthy lunch includes well-balanced energy sources, like a good source of carbohydrate, a good source of protein and some sort of fruit or vegetable.

The study found that kids who had more time for lunch and recess and who ate before they played were more active. The opposite was true for boys and girls who had less time for lunch and recess. These students were more active if they had recess before they ate.

"We plan to communicate our findings to school teachers, administrators and policymakers to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based policies that support children's ability to meet their daily physical activity and nutritional recommendations," Khan said.

Read more:

Five healthy eating tips

Healthy eating: it's never too early

Top 10 healthy eating tips for kids

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