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Timing of lunch and break periods 'can affect healthy behaviour in children'

08/05/2017 Joanna

Efforts to promote physical health and wellbeing in school students should give consideration to the potential impact that the timing of lunch and break periods can have.

A new US study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has shed light on this issue, which assessed the lunch intake and physical activity of 151 nine to 11-year-old students from two low-income schools, looking at differences based on whether lunches were scheduled just before or immediately after break.

It was found that less food was wasted when the break took place before lunch, but also that children tended to consume a greater proportion of vegetables when lunch was offered first.

When children had a longer combined lunch and break period, offering lunch before the break meant they were proportionally more physically active; by contrast, a shorter lunch/break period saw children becoming more active when the break came before lunch.

These relationships between food intake at lunch and physical activity were shown to be independent of factors previously shown to contribute, such as children's weight status and gender.

This was the first study to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity and consider the influence of duration and timing, and could affect future school policy decisions.

Research team leader Dr Naiman Khan, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said: "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."

The researchers also plan to study whether policies regarding lunch and breaktimes affect children's risk for obesity, their academic success and other markers of cognitive development.

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