Students skip lunch when canteens are noisy, new study finds

Press release 2022-08-15

Canteens are the noisiest room in schools, a report by Ecophon finds. When canteens are noisy, many students lose their appetite, cut lunch short and even skip lunch altogether. When students return to school after their summer holidays, poorly designed or old canteens risk harming student health and learning, while adding to unnecessary food waste.

A report by acoustic systems company Ecophon finds that canteens are the noisiest rooms in schools. In a survey of middle and high school students in three European countries, eight of out ten students found their canteens noisy. The sound environment has a clear impact on student appetite, affecting student health and learning:

  • 19% of students in the Netherlands and 30% of students in Sweden say they skip lunch at least once a week, due to the noise levels
  • 31% of students in the Netherlands and 24% of students in Sweden say they cut lunch short at least once a week, due to the noise levels
  • 24% of students in the Netherlands and 36% of students in Sweden say they lose their appetite at least once a week, due to the noise levels

The results indicate that a poor lunch environment may lead to more food waste. Today, the International Food Waste Colation estimates that an average of 15 to 30% of every meal in primary schools is discarded.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that the global annual cost of food waste is USD 2.6 trillion, roughly the GDP of France. One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (12.3) is to cut the amount of food waste in half by 2030.

– Our report raises concerns on the relation between a poor sound environment and more food waste. We see a similar effect in loud restaurants, but children are even more affected by noise. And this impacts on education; students also don’t learn as well on empty stomachs. So school noise has societal costs beyond the cost of food waste, says Douglas MacCutcheon, PhD in Environmental Psychology and Global Concept Developer for Educational Environments, Saint-Gobain Ecophon.

When surveyed students were asked how noise impacts them in school, a majority said it made it difficult to learn at least once a week. Roughly half of the respondents said that they feel stressed by noise at school at least once a week.

In the latest PISA study, headmasters were asked if their school has poor-quality physical infrastructure that interferes with learning. The study found that roughly one third of students in OECD countries go to schools with poor-quality physical infrastructure.

– Continuing to make teachers and students the victims of poor quality infrastructure and inadequate design is really unacceptable. It’s up to politicians to invest in school refurbishments. Headmasters and school administrators also need to prioritise improving the physical environments in their schools. A good place to start is to take acoustic measurements and then find out what can be done to remedy the situation, says Douglas MacCutcheon.

European Schoolnet, the network of 33 European Ministries of Education, and its Executive Director Marc Durando welcomes Ecophon’s study. European Schoolnet highlights the importance of considering noise and acoustics when creating school environments, including its effects on student health and wellbeing.

Marc Durando, Executive Director of European Schoolnet, comments:

“Over the years research on school environments and learning has produced important evidence on the need for education stakeholders to take the effects of sound on students and teachers into serious consideration as it can have significant impact on their wellbeing and progress. This research is supported by evidence and case-studies produced by international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the OECD which showcase the need to consider how critical good acoustics are to learning of children. European Schoolnet has also, through its research and projects, highlighted the importance of considering aspects related to noise and acoustics when creating or adapting learning spaces and school environments.

European Schoolnet therefore welcomes the new study funded by Saint-Gobain Ecophon ‘A Sound Recovery – mitigating noise in post-pandemic education’ which surveyed students in three countries, building on existing evidence from PISA 2018 and further stressing the extent and impact of noise in European schools. The report found that noise was identified as a problem by the majority of actors in schools and that this can have a negative effect to the wellbeing and learning of both regular- and SEN student populations as well as the wellbeing and health of teachers. It further highlights the current status quo of existing regulations and standards on school acoustics and provides recommendations for policy makers and schools to take the opportunity of the COVID19 recovery period to improve school and classroom acoustic environments.

As an organisation, European Schoolnet is committed to continue working with all relevant stakeholders, including actors from the public and private sector, to develop guidance, recommendations, and produce evidence for schools and policy makers in the area of innovative pedagogy, technology, and learning environments. As an industry partner of the Future Classroom Lab, Saint-Gobain Ecophon is a valuable counterpart of European Schoolnet in promoting a more inclusive and innovative education in Europe.”

About the report “A Sound Recovery for Schools”

The report is based on online surveys that Ecophon commissioned of 1017 middle and high school students in Sweden, the Netherlands and France. Surveys in Sweden and the Netherlands were carried out by the global opinion research group APCO Insight in January 2022. The survey in France was conducted by the research company OpinionWay in January 2021. The report also builds on results from the OECD’s latest PISA study in 2018.


For more information (press only):
Douglas MacCutcheon
Global Concept Developer for Educational Environments, Saint-Gobain Ecophon
Phone: +46 76 536 66 67


Ecophon develops, manufactures and markets acoustic products and systems that contribute to a good working environment by enhancing peoples’ wellbeing and performance. The company has business units in 20 countries, delegations in another 30 countries, and approximately 1100 employees. The head office is located in Sweden. Ecophon is part of the Saint-Gobain Group.