Association between home and school food environments and dietary patterns among 9–11-year-old children in 12 countries
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OBJECTIVES: We investigated the roles of home and school environments on dietary patterns among children from 12 countries differing widely in geographic region and levels of human and economic development. METHODS: The sample included a total of 6685 (54% girls) 9–11-year-old children. Parents/guardians reported the availability of certain foods in the home, and trained researchers performed school audits recording the availability of foods for sale at schools. Foods were then divided into wholesome (nutrient-dense) and empty-calorie (nutrient-poor) foods and scored according to their availability. Children reported if their school provided school lunch and how many times during the last week they had eaten meals prepared away from home and school. Via principal components analysis, data-driven dietary pattern scores were calculated from food frequency questionnaires. Multilevel models were used to study the associations between home and school food environments (wholesome and empty-calorie foods) and dietary patterns (healthy and unhealthy diet pattern scores). RESULTS: For low unhealthy diet pattern scores, low availability of empty-calorie foods at home was found to be more important than high availability of wholesome foods. More meals eaten outside home and school were associated with the higher unhealthy diet pattern scores. The availability of wholesome foods at home was positively associated with the healthy diet pattern scores. Food availability at school was not associated with the dietary patterns. CONCLUSIONS: In this sample, the home food environment was more significant than the school food environment in predicting the dietary patterns. The availability of empty-calorie foods was associated with the unhealthy dietary pattern even when the availability of wholesome foods at home was high. Meals prepared away from home contributed to the unhealthy dietary pattern. Therefore, parents should be encouraged to limit the availability of empty-calorie foods and eating outside the home.