Just how unhealthy are your children’s lunchboxes?

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Childhood obesity is being fueled by packed lunches, new research has found.

A study by Leeds University found that only 1.6 per cent of lunchboxes in England’s primary schools are meeting nutritional standards.

Experts are now calling for guidelines to be introduced for packed lunches to cut down on the amount of crisps, chocolate biscuits, sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods being brought into schools.

The Government is being urged to put packed lunches at the heart of its childhood obesity agenda

The University of Leeds research found that lunchboxes are still filled with high levels of saturated fats, sugars and salt. Only one in five contained any vegetables or salad, and less than 20 per cent met the standards for energy, vitamin A, or zinc with only 26 per cent meeting the standard for iron.

Between 52 per cent and 60 per cent of the packed lunches contained too many sweet and savoury snacks, while 46 per cent included sugary drinks.

The latest research followed up a similar 2006 study, and there have been improvements in the past ten years, including the majority of lunchboxes now meeting standards for protein and vitamin C. There has been a reduction in the consumption of sweetened drinks and chocolate-based snacks, while saturated fats and sugars were found to have decreased - but levels were still higher than recommended.

Most notably, the number of sweet snacks permitted by the school food standards, such as plain biscuits and cake without chocolate, has increased in the last 10 years.

Flora, who commissioned the research, is now working with MP Sharon Hodgson, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of School Food, to put children’s lunchboxes at the heart of the Government’s agenda to combat childhood obesity. The MP said the group had called for action to be taken on packed lunches.

Jo Nicholas, head of research at the Children’s Food Trust, said packed lunches were contributing to the country’s child obesity problem and the Trust was “disappointed” not to see packed lunch policies in the Government’s childhood obesity strategy.