South African Journal of Child Health
On-line version ISSN 1999-7671
Print version ISSN 1994-3032
ABSTRACT OBJECTIVE: To determine the contribution of school lunchboxes to the daily food intake of adolescent girls in a school in an informal settlement in Durban, South Africa. METHODS: The study was conducted among a group of 61 secondary schoolgirls aged 13 - 18 years. Two 24-hour recall questionnaires were completed during an interview with participants to gather data on dietary patterns over a period of two consecutive days. The researcher weighed and recorded the contents of randomly selected lunchboxes. RESULTS: The lunchboxes contributed one-third of the daily nutrient intake of the children. The 24-hour recall and lunchbox content data revealed an energy-dense, carbohydrate-based diet. The contribution of total fat (34.04%) to the total energy intake of the girls was higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 15 - 30%. The daily fruit and vegetable intake (87.95 g and 83.97 g according to 24-hour recall and lunchbox analysis, respectively) was insufficient compared with the WHO-recommended intake of >400 g/day. Although the mean intake of most of the nutrients was sufficient, a large number of the girls did not receive the daily requirements for this age group. CONCLUSION: The results of the study indicated a high-fat diet low in fruits and vegetables. The majority of respondents consumed carbohydrate-based food items and their lunchbox contents did not meet the basic requirements of a balanced diet. Although increased dietary needs are seldom met in adolescents, overweight is an emerging problem among young people in both low- and high-income countries. Nutrition education in this age group should concentrate on healthy food choices in school lunchboxes, as school children can spend up to 8 hours a day at school.