Impact of a school snack program on the dietary intake of grade six to ten First Nation students living in a remote community in northern Ontario, Canada.Rural Remote Health. 2012; 12:2122.RR
School snack and breakfast programs may be especially important in remote northern communities where many households are food insecure. Despite the strong potential for school programs to improve the dietary intake and eating behaviours of children and youth, very few studies have reported on the effects of school nutrition programs in Aboriginal communities. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a school snack program on the dietary intake of grade six to ten First Nation students living in a remote community in northern Ontario.
Data were collected in November 2004 and December 2007 with grade six to ten (aged 10-18 years) students (n=63 and n=50, respectively) using a validated web-based 24 hour diet recall survey, the WEB-Q. Food group consumption and nutrient intake of students participating in the school snack program on the previous day were compared with students who chose not to participate. In each year, ANOVA was used to assess differences between participants and non-participants, genders, and grade groups. The second data collection in December of 2007 included five questions asking students about their participation, preferences, and impressions of the snack program.
Students participating in the snack program during the 2004 data collection (37%; n=23) compared with those who did not (63%; n=40) had significantly (p<0.05) higher mean intakes from the 'Vegetables and Fruit' food group (7.5 vs 3.4 servings), folate (420 vs 270 μg), dietary fiber (18 vs 8 g), vitamin C (223 vs 94 mg), calcium (1055 vs 719 mg) and iron (16.5 vs 11.7 mg). For the 2007 data collection, snack program participants (52%; n=26) had higher intakes from the 'Milk and Alternatives' food group (3.3 vs 2.2 servings), vitamin A (697 vs 551 RE [retinol equivalents]), calcium (1186 vs 837 mg), and vitamin D (6.9 vs 4.4 μg) and significantly lower intakes of 'Other' foods (6.0 vs 7.2 servings) compared with non-participants (48%; n=24). For 2004 and 2007, differences in intake also occurred by gender and grade groupings, with no interaction effects between snack participation and gender or grade. With the exception of 'Meat and Alternatives' in 2004, there was a trend for a higher percentage of students to meet dietary recommendations if they participated in the snack program. Students indicated that the three things they liked most about the school snack program were the juice (50%), that the program kept them from feeling hungry at school (40%), and that they got a snack at school every day (32%). Students indicated that the snack program helped them to eat healthier by motivating them (74%), eating more fruit (86%), and making better dietary choices (68%).
Given the positive impact of the program on the food and nutrient intake of school snack program participants, qualitative feedback will be used to enhance the program and participation. Clearly, school snack programs can be an important venue to address the nutritional vulnerability of First Nation youth living in remote communities.