EU Science Hub

Study maps EU school food policies for the first time

Jul 16 2014

Childhood obesity is a growing problem with nearly one in three children in Europe being overweight. With the first comprehensive assessment of school food policies in Europe, the JRC has made an important contribution to the European Commission's efforts to address this issue.

The study shows that European countries acknowledge the important contribution of school food to children's health, development and performance at school. All the countries studied (28 European Member States + Norway and Switzerland) have guidelines for school food, although these vary considerably. National measures aimed at promoting healthy diets in schools range from voluntary guidelines, for example for menus and portion sizes, to complete bans, including on marketing, vending machines and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Improving child nutrition, teaching healthy diet and lifestyle habits as well as reducing or preventing childhood obesity are the primary general goals shared by most countries. Sweet treats and savoury snacks are restricted in most policies, ranging from those that occasionally allow them to complete bans.

These are only a few of the facts resulting from the mapping of the most recent national policy documents for standards and guidelines on food available in primary and secondary schools. The policies are described according to common criteria, such as foods that are allowed or banned, nutrient levels, dining facilities, catering services and marketing restrictions.

The report also provides an overview of the regulatory situation in the countries studied, which is an important step towards assessing the impact of such policies on childhood obesity.