Background: With childhood obesity prevalence on the rise in many European countries, schools may serve as a protected environment for children to learn healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Policy makers, educators and researchers would benefit from a comprehensive overview of European school food policies.
Methods: We screened public databases, EU level reports, national ministerial websites and the scientific literature to collate official school food policies across Europe. Member States representatives checked that all appropriate documents (total of 34 policies) had been identified and referenced, and they reviewed and confirmed the extracted data.
Results: Mandatory standards are defined in 18 of the policies (53%), the remainder offering voluntary guidelines. Top 3 policy aims are to improve child nutrition (97%), teach healthy dietary/lifestyle habits (94%) and reduce/prevent obesity (88%). Variations mainly relate to the types of meals targeted (e.g. lunch, breakfast, snack, dinner); whether standards/recommendations are nutrient- and/or food-based; and if vending machines and the wider food environment (kiosks near schools, packed lunches from home, etc.) are considered.
Conclusion: We provide an up-to-date overview of European school food policies. The next step will be to assess the need and feasibility for developing best practice guidelines for school food policies in Europe, bearing in mind cultural and structural differences between countries.