THREE-quarters of kids’ school lunches are made up of junk food, research reveals.
Experts warn our children’s “ultra-processed” diet is fuelling the obesity epidemic – with four in ten youngsters now leaving primary school too fat.
Imperial College London scientists analysed what 3,300 kids ate during their school break.
The found packed lunches were the least healthy – with 82 per cent of calories coming from highly-processed foods such as white bread, frozen pizza, snack bars and sugary drinks.
Around 64 per cent of calories in hot school lunches were also from factory-made products.
Lead researcher Dr Jennie Parnham, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “We need to view these findings as a call to action.”
The analysis is published in the journal Nutrients.
Dr Parnham warned the current cost of living crisis could see more kids getting cheap, unhealthy food.
And said taxpayer-funded school meals are an important way of getting fruit and veg into many youngsters.
The study found one of the worst culprits were fizzy drinks, fruit juices and yogurt drinks.
Experts said simply swapping them for water would help slash needless sugars and calories.
Dr Eszter Vamos, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, added: “School meals are critically important in making sure that every child has access to an affordable nutritious meal.
“Children in England consume very high levels of ultra-processed foods, and it is worrying that meals consumed at school contribute to this.”
However other scientists challenged the findings, saying they were meaningless.
Professor Gunter Kuhnle said many lunchboxes contain sliced bread, which is considered “ultra-processed”.
But the nutrition expert from Reading University said there is no evidence to suggest sandwiches are inherently unhealthy.
He added: “Demonising food is never a good idea – ultra processed foods can play an important role to ensure an affordable supply of healthy food.”