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Research packs positive message for lunchbox health

25 Sep 2018

Investigating some healthy lunch choices at the launch are Oliver, nib foundation director Michelle McPherson, Ella and Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden.

New Lambton Heights Infants School in Newcastle has played host to the launch of SWAP-It, a University of Newcastle research project helping Hunter parents and carers create healthier lunchboxes.

Funded through a $500,000 grant from nib foundation, researchers have developed Swap What’s Packed in the lunchbox: SWAP-It, a parent support program delivered through an app.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden, said SWAP-It aimed to address the nutritional intake of children to align it with dietary guidelines and prevent unhealthy weight gain in childhood.

“Good nutrition is one of the most important determinants of children’s health and wellbeing,” Associate Professor Wolfenden said.

“Within the Hunter New England region, more than 135,000 lunchboxes are packed for primary-aged school children every day. These lunchboxes provide the fuel for young growing minds, containing a third of their daily intake.

“However, packed within these lunchboxes are more than 270,000 items of junk food, cleverly packaged and presented to children to be consumed each day.

“The consumption of these foods is contributing to excessive energy intake, unhealthy weight gain, diabetes and other health issues that impact on children’s physical and mental health and can lead to chronic health conditions in adulthood.”

To address the limitations of previous tactics to improve lunchbox content, the research team established a partnership with leading national provider of a school-parent communication app Skoolbag to develop and integrate the lunchbox program within the app.

The program includes three components: SWAP-It nutrition guidelines; weekly support messages via push notifications; and resources such as hyperlinks to useful information, lunchbox planners, drink bottles, ice bricks and shopping lists as visual prompts to pack healthy lunchbox foods at home.

SWAP-It will be delivered to 150 primary schools across the Hunter New England region, directly benefitting approximately 75,000 students and 60,000 families over the three year period.

nib foundation director Michelle McPherson said with obesity posing a health and social burden estimated to cost $58 billion per year, and 27 per cent of Australian children now classified as obese or overweight, there was an imperative to improve the food habits of the next generation.

“Implementing a widely accessible program that prevents unhealthy weight gain from occurring in the first place is recommended as one of the most cost-effective approaches to improving community health and wellbeing,” Mrs McPherson said.

The department’s Healthy School Canteen Strategy is aiming to make the healthy choice the easy choice by increasing the availability of healthy food and drink options in school canteens.

With NSW Health, the department is supporting canteens and their managers in meeting food and drink criteria which incorporate healthy menu options, serving sizes and how food is presented, helping students learn to make healthy choices that will last their whole lives.