Background/objective: Our objective was to investigate whether school lunch attendance was associated with overall eating habits and sedentary behaviour in a French sample of children and adolescents.
Subjects/methods: Data for the study were taken from the second French cross-sectional dietary survey (INCA2-2006-07). In total, 1413 school children aged 3-17 years old were classified according to their school type and their usual school lunch attendance. Eating habits included meal regularity, dietary diversity, purchase in vending machine, snacking habits and frequency of eating in fast-foods. Two composite indices of eating habits were derived from multiple correspondence analyses. Sedentary behaviour was assessed by the average daily screen times for TV and computer. The association between school lunch attendance and each variable was tested. Multivariate association between school lunch attendance and the composite indices of eating habits and sedentary behaviours was studied.
Results: In all, 69.0% (CI(95%): 64.2-73.9) of secondary school children and 63.0% (CI(95%): 58.5-67.5) of pre- and elementary school children usually attended school lunch at least once a week. Pre- and elementary school children attending school lunches showed a higher dietary diversity score (P=0.02) and ate morning snacks more frequently (P=0.02). In secondary school children, attending school canteen was related to a lower rate of skipping breakfast (P=0.04) and main meals (P=0.01). In all school children, school lunch attendance was simultaneously associated with healthier overall eating habits and less sedentary behaviour.
Conclusion: In France, children attending school canteens seem to have healthier eating habits and display less sedentary behaviour, independently of their socio-economic and demographic background.