Poor diet is a contributing factor to the high prevalence of overweight and obesity among Australian school children1. Interventions targeting school canteens have the potential to positively influence children’s diets2. Although government policies have been developed to restrict the sale of unhealthy foods, the implementation of such policies has been limited3. To date, most implementation support has been targeted towards canteen managers. However, engaging principals may also be important in optimising policy implementation. This study aimed to investigate whether the exclusion of ‘red’ food items on canteen menus is associated with a high degree of principal influence or having a school nutrition policy.
Primary school principals in the Hunter New England region, NSW participated in a telephone survey. The NSW Healthy Schools Canteen policy uses a traffic light system to categorise foods. Foods classified as ‘red’ are prohibited for sale. Principals were asked to identify foods usually sold in their canteen from a standard list which included common ‘red’ foods. They were then asked to rate their perceived influence over canteen menus and whether they had a school nutrition policy. Chi-square tests were conducted to determine significant associations with ‘excluding red items’.
Of the 413 principals contacted to complete the survey 340 (82%) consented and 276 (67%) had an operational canteen. The exclusion of red foods from canteen menus was significantly associated with: principals having a high degree of influence on canteen menus (p<0.01), and having a school nutrition policy that supports The NSW Healthy Schools Canteen policy (p<0.02).
These results suggest that Principal influence and supportive school policy are important factors in canteens restricting the sale of unhealthy food items and complying with government canteen policy. Therefore it is suggested that interventions should engage school principals and encourage the development of school-based policy.