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Environmental and nutrition impact of achieving new School Food Plan recommendations in the primary school meals sector in England
  1. Kremlin Wickramasinghe1,
  2. Mike Rayner1,
  3. Michael Goldacre2,
  4. Nick Townsend1,
  5. Peter Scarborough1
  1. 1Nuffield Department of Population Health, British Heart Foundation Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Unit of Health Care Epidemiology, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe; kremlin.wickramasinghe{at}


Objectives The aim of this modelling study was to estimate the expected changes in the nutritional quality and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) of primary school meals due to the adoption of new mandatory food-based standards for school meals.

Setting Nationally representative random sample of 136 primary schools in England was selected for the Primary School Food Survey (PSFS) with 50% response rate.

Participants A sample of 6690 primary students from PSFS who consumed school meals.

Outcome measures Primary School Food Plan (SFP) nutritional impact was assessed using both macronutrient and micronutrient quality. The environmental impact was measured by GHGEs.

Methods The scenario tested was one in which every meal served in schools met more than half of the food-based standards mentioned in the SFP (SFP scenario). We used findings from a systematic review to assign GHGE values for each food item in the data set. The GHGE value and nutritional quality of SFP scenario meals was compared with the average primary school meal in the total PSFS data set (pre-SFP scenario). Prior to introduction of the SFP (pre-SFP scenario), the primary school meals had mandatory nutrient-based guidelines.

Results The percentage of meals that met the protein standard increased in the SFP scenario and the proportion of meals that met the standards for important micronutrients (eg, iron, calcium, vitamin A and C) also increased. However, the SFP scenario did not improve the salt, saturated fat and free sugar levels. The mean GHGE value of meals which met the SFP standards was 0.79 (95% CI 0.77 to 0.81) kgCO2e compared with a mean value of 0.72 (0.71 to 0.74) kgCO2e for all meals. Adopting the SFP would increase the total emissions associated with primary school meals by 22 000 000 kgCO2e per year.

Conclusions The universal adoption of the new food-based standards, without reformulation would result in an increase in the GHGEs of school meals and improve some aspects of the nutritional quality, but it would not improve the average salt, sugar and saturated fat content levels.

  • School Health
  • Health Promoting Schools
  • Climate Change
  • Environmental Impact
  • Sustainability
  • Non-communicable Disease

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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  • Contributors KW designed the study, created the data set for analysis, analysed data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. PS conceptualised the study, developed the study design, supervised the analysis and revised the draft paper. MR developed the study design, revised the analysis plan and revised the drat paper. NT and MG provided inputs for the study design, commented on the analysis plan and results, revised the draft paper.

  • Funding KW and NT are supported by a grant from the British Heart Foundation (006/P&C/CORE/2013/OXFSTATS). MR and PS are supported by a programme grant from the British Heart Foundation (021/P&C/Core/2010/HPRG). MG was funded in part by Public Health England.

  • Disclaimer The views expressed are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding bodies.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Main data set used for this study are Primary School Food Survey data set which is available via the UK Data Archive. Please contact the corresponding author ( to access the greenhouse gas emissions data or for any further inquiries.

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