From research to policy: making school food healthier and more effective
Why anyone would be opposed to giving healthy food to kids in schools is beyond me, but school food is a flash point for political fights.
Sometimes research helps. Two recent studies produce results that can be used to counter criticisms of government school meal programs.
Kids are eating more healthfully than they used to, according to a research study funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study concludes:
Food policy in the form of improved nutrition standards was associated with the selection of foods that are higher in nutrients that are of importance in adolescence and lower in energy density. Implementation of the new meal standards was not associated with a negative effect on student meal participation. In this district, meal standards effectively changed the quality of foods selected by children.
This is excellent news for proponents of better school food. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement:
This study is the latest in a long list of evidence which shows that stronger school meal standards are leading to healthier habits in schools. Children are eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming more nutrients, making them better prepared to learn and succeed in the classroom. After decades of a growing obesity epidemic that harmed the health and future of our children and cost our country billions, we are starting to see progress in preventing this disease. Now is not the time to take as step backwards in our efforts to do what is right for our children’s health. I urge Congress to reauthorize the child nutrition programs as soon as possible and to maintain the high standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Kids who eat breakfast in school are healthier. Even if they have already had breakfast at home, kids who eat school breakfasts are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who don’t, finds a study from groups at U. Connecticut and Yale.
The findings of the study…add to an ongoing debate over policy efforts to increase daily school breakfast consumption. Previous research has shown that, for students, eating breakfast is associated with improved academic performance, better health, and healthy body weight. But there have been concerns that a second breakfast at school following breakfast at home could increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain.
So now we know: they do not.
Research like this is unlikely to settle the matter but it ought to help school personnel who are working hard to make sure that kids get something decent to eat and to move ahead on school food initiatives.