Background Milk and dairy products are an important source of calcium, necessary for bone health across the lifespan. However, children’s milk consumption has decreased over the past decade in Ireland and in other developed countries. The EU School Milk Scheme (SMS) supports the provision of subsidised or free milk to schoolchildren. However, participation in the SMS in Ireland is declining.
Objectives To explore the factors influencing the uptake and implementation of the SMS in disadvantaged primary schools.
Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted with teachers (n=5) and with parents of children (aged 8 to 11 years) attending disadvantaged primary schools (n=6). Participants were recruited from disadvantaged primary schools as part of a larger evaluation of the EU School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme in Ireland. Interviews included questions surrounding participants’ views on milk provision in primary schools and their experience with the SMS. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed.
Results Overall, participants felt positively towards milk provision in schools. Socioeconomic disadvantage was cited as a reason for schools’ participation in the SMS and contributed to parents’ reasoning as to why they felt that the SMS was beneficial. Past experience with receiving school milk influenced participants’ attitudes towards the current scheme, both in cases where participants had positive and negative experiences. A barrier to participation in the SMS at a school-level were the practical issues associated with storing and serving milk at a suitable temperature. The COVID-19 crisis also hindered participation in and implementation of the scheme.
Conclusions Participants viewed the SMS as valuable in making milk available to children who may not receive it outside of the school environment. However, practical issues with storage and distribution negatively impact its uptake and implementation. Further supports are necessary in primary schools to mitigate the issues experienced when implementing the SMS.
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