Reliability of the School Food Checklist for in-school audits and photograph analysis of children's packed lunches


Background: Assessment of children’s diets is problematic, typically relying on error-prone parent or child recall or reporting, or resource intensive direct observation. The School Food Checklist (SFC) is an objective instrument comprising of 20 food and beverage categories designed to measure the foods contained in children’s packed lunches. The present study aimed to assess intra-rater and inter-rater reliability of each of the food and beverage categories of the SFC for both in-school audits and photograph analysis of children’s school lunches.

Methods: Participants comprised 176 children aged 5–8 years from five primary schools in Northern Metropolitan Melbourne. The SFC was used to measure the foods contained in children’s packed lunches in the school setting and using photographs. Photograph analysis was conducted by the auditors 2–3 months after completion of in-school audits.

Results: Both intra-rater [intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) = 0.78–1] and inter-rater (ICC = 0.50–0.95) reliability analysis indicated strong agreement for in-school auditing. With the exception of the food category titled ‘leftovers’, there was strong intra-rater reliability for auditors’ live audits and their analysis of photographs [ICC = 0.57–0.98 (Auditor 1); ICC = 0.72–0.90 (Auditor 2)], and strong inter-rater reliability for photograph analysis (ICC = 0.68–0.92).

Conclusions: The SFC is a reliable method of measuring the foods and beverages contained in children’s packed lunches when used in the school setting or for photograph analysis. This finding has broad implications, particularly for the use of photograph analysis, because this approach offers a convenient and cost effective method of measuring what food and beverages children bring to school in home packed lunches.

Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2010; 23(1):48-53