School canteens have an important role in modelling a healthy food environment. Price is a strong predictor of food and beverage choice. This study compared the relative price of healthy and less healthy lunch and snack items sold within Australian school canteens. A convenience sample of online canteen menus from five Australian states were selected (100 primary and 100 secondary schools). State-specific canteen guidelines were used to classify menu items into 'green' (eat most), 'amber' (select carefully) and 'red' (not recommended in schools). The price of the cheapest 'healthy' lunch (vegetable-based 'green') and snack ('green' fruit) item was compared to the cheapest 'less healthy' ('amber/red') lunch and snack item, respectively, using an un-paired t-test. The relative price of the 'healthy' items and the 'less healthy' items was calculated to determine the proportion of schools that sold the 'less healthy' item cheaper. The mean cost of the 'healthy' lunch items was greater than the 'less healthy' lunch items for both primary (AUD $0.70 greater) and secondary schools ($0.50 greater; p < 0.01). For 75% of primary and 57% of secondary schools, the selected 'less healthy' lunch item was cheaper than the 'healthy' lunch item. For 41% of primary and 48% of secondary schools, the selected 'less healthy' snack was cheaper than the 'healthy' snack. These proportions were greatest for primary schools located in more, compared to less, disadvantaged areas. The relative price of foods sold within Australian school canteens appears to favour less healthy foods. School canteen healthy food policies should consider the price of foods sold.
- public health