School lunch and learning behaviour in primary schools: an intervention study

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;64(11):1280-8. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.150. Epub 2010 Sep 1.


Background/objectives: In addition to the nutritional benefits of healthier school food, anecdotes describe improvements in children's behaviour and educational outcomes when school food or the school dining room environment is improved. This study hypothesized that a school food and dining room intervention would improve pupils' learning-related classroom behaviour.

Subjects/methods: A controlled intervention trial involving six primary schools matched in triplets and randomly assigned to a 12-week intervention (promotion of healthier school food at lunchtime and changes in the school dining environment) or 12-week wait-listed control group. Study outcome was learning-related behaviours measured in a random sample of 146 pupils in years 3-5.

Results: On-task and off-task behaviours were observed and used as proxy measures for concentration and disengagement (disruption), respectively. Teacher-pupil on-task engagement was 3.4 times more likely in the intervention schools compared with the control schools (adjusted model odds ratio (OR)=3.40 (95% confidence interval (CI)=1.56, 7.36), P=0.009). However, on-task pupil-pupil behaviour was less likely in the intervention group (adjusted model OR=0.45 (95% CI=0.28, 0.70), P<0.001). Similarly, off-task pupil-pupil behaviour was more likely in the intervention group than in the control group in both the unadjusted model (OR=2.18 (95% CI=1.52, 3.13), P<0.001) and the adjusted model (OR=2.28 (95% CI=1.25, 4.17), P=0.007).

Conclusions: This study offers some support for the hypothesis that a school food and dining room intervention can have a positive impact on pupils' alertness. However, if raised alertness is not channelled and supervised, it may result in increased off-task behaviour when pupils are working together.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Diet / standards*
  • Female
  • Food Services*
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • School Health Services*
  • Schools
  • Social Environment*