Time is out on recess and lunch

Tuesday, 13 June, 2017


A new study has found that the duration and timing of lunch and recess at school is related to the food choices and physical activity of children. These findings could help schools make policies that promote healthier school lunches and increased physical activity during recess.

Researchers discovered that although less food was wasted when recess was held before lunch, children consumed a greater amount of vegetables when recess was offered after lunch.

For the study, the researchers assessed the lunch intake and physical activity of 151 fourth- and fifth-grade students from two low-income schools. Each school scheduled lunch either just before or immediately after recess.

The researchers found that:

  • Although less food was wasted when recess was held before lunch, children consumed a greater proportion of vegetables when lunch was offered before recess.
  • When children had a longer time for a combined lunch and recess period, children were proportionally more physically active when lunch was offered before recess.
  • When the lunch–recess period was shorter, children were more active when recess was offered before lunch.

“Overall, our findings suggest that recess and lunch behaviours are interrelated,” said Gabriella McLoughlin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “However, the specific food choices and activity levels children engage in may be subject to the timing and duration of lunch and recess.”

The relationships between food intake at lunch and physical activity were independent of factors previously shown to contribute to recess activity, such as a child’s weight status and gender.

“Most research has focused solely on nutritional intake or physical activity during recess,” said Naiman Khan, PhD, assistant professor and leader of the research team. “This is the first study to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity and consider the influence of duration and timing.

“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,” said Khan.

Image credit: Gabriella McLoughlin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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