Around 98% of school lunch boxes are unhealthy and fail to meet school nutritional standards despite high profile awareness campaigns, according to a new report.
The University of Leeds study, commissioned by spread brand Flora, found that only 1.6% of primary children's packed lunches meet the standards set for their classmates eating in the school canteen.
Less than a fifth (17%) contained any vegetables or salad, while more than half (52%) contained too many sweet snacks.
Lead researcher Dr Charlotte Evans, a nutritional epidemiologist in the university's School of Food and Nutrition, said: "I hope the results of the study are an eye-opener, highlighting that more stringent policies need to be introduced if we want to see real change in the nutritional value of children's packed lunches.
"New policies for schools, food manufacturers and retailers are needed, which will require strong support from government and stakeholders if progress is to be made."
The research was a follow up to a 2006 study by the university, which found that only 1.1% of children's packed lunched met national standards for school food in England.
Today's (6 September) report shows packed lunches have only improved by 0.5% in 10 years.
On a more positive note, a considerable reduction in the consumption of sweetened drinks was shown (46% in 2016 compared to 61% in 2006) and 93% of lunches now meet the required standards for protein.
Jo Nicholas, head of research for Children's Food Trust, responded to the report. She said: "There's a wealth of evidence to suggest we're underestimating the contribution of packed lunches to our country's child obesity problem. Our recent analysis of hundreds of millions of packed lunches eaten by children in the last year found that pester power is at work to drive products like crisps, chocolate biscuits and sugary drinks into many lunchboxes every day.
"This is so tough for parents. We all want the reassurance that our children will eat a good lunch during their day at school. But when it's foods like crisps, chocolate biscuits and sugary drinks that kids are asking for, or eating because they say they like those foods, they're just filling up on empty calories.
"We've got to do more to help parents and schools with this. Putting a packed lunch policy in place can be tough, but every school allowing packed lunches needs one if we're going make life easier for parents and give kids a consistent message. It's a step we were looking for in the government's childhood obesity strategy and we're disappointed not to see it in there."
Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for School Food, said: "The research highlights the need for more action to be taken on food put in children's packed lunches, something which the School Food APPG has recently called for.
"Despite positive moves with regards to the food provided as part of a school meal, food brought in by children in their packed lunches is lagging behind. Therefore we need more action to be taken if we want to see positive changes occur."
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