A Quantitative Study Examining Compliance to the Saudi Schools Nutrition Policy and Alignment to the IOM Standards in Boys' Public High Schools in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Aldubayan, K A
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Aims: This study investigated the compliance of the selected schools to the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens,” and assessed the quality of the food offered as breakfast in the cafeteria using the Institute of Medicine (IOM) standards. Methods: A total of 76 boys’ public high schools were randomly selected from four areas in Riyadh (19 north, 19 south, 19 east, and 19 west). Principals and canteen managers were interviewed using validated questionnaires. Schools were observed using a food checklist. A scoring system was used to determine the level of compliance to the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens” and the level of alignment to the IOM standards. The compliance and alignment scores were categorized in 4 levels with the lowest showing 0%-25% compliance or alignment and the highest showing 75%- 100 % compliance or alignment. One-Way-ANOVA statistical test and independent t-test were used for measuring the significant mean difference between schools’ alignment scores, and their locations and adoption to the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens.” Results: Food offered in Saudis schools comes prepackaged with minimal cooking in schools. From calorie perspective, there was not a significant difference between the foods allowed and foods not allowed. For the Saudi policy, 44.7% (34) of the schools scored in category 2, 50% (38) scored in category 3, and only 5.3% (4) scored in the highest category 4. For the IOM standards, 96.1% (73) of the schools scored in category 1, and only 3.9% (3) scored in category 2. Unlike the IOM standards, the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens” lacks details about the nutritional compositions of foods that should be offered in schools. The Saudi policy focuses only on foods that should not be offered and does not address the need for providing nutrient-dense foods to the students. Conclusion: The Saudi boys’ public high schools in Riyadh had a moderate compliance to the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens” and a low alignment to the IOM school nutrition standards. While the Saudi policy is clear on what should not be served in the school cafeteria, it fails to provide guidance on what must be served to improve the quality of foods served. It is highly recommended for the policy makers in the Saudi ministry of education to develop the Saudi policy regarding “meals and beverages offered in school canteens,” that includes nutrient-dense options such as fruits, low-fat dairy, and whole grains breakfast foods.