Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Study: New school-meal rules make for healthier eating, but amount of waste remains high

While students often complain that school lunches don't taste good, nutritionists worry about the fat and nutrition levels in the food. To help curb childhood obesity, the U.S. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. The act included provisions for free-lunch programs and stipulations for nutrition standards, Leighton Walter Kille writes for the Journalist's Resource, a Harvard Kennedy School publication.

Even though more students could receive free meals through the program, research from the U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that National School Lunch Program participation went down 3.7 percent. The concern was: "What would the point be of putting more nutritious food on students' plates if they didn't eat it?" Kille notes. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study called "Impact of the new U.S. Department Agriculture School Meal Standards on Food Selection, Consumption and Waste" that examined the impact of the new regulation on food choice and waste.

The study was conducted in a low-income district in Massachusetts and focused on the eating habits of 1,030 elementary and middle-school children. The study found:
  • "After the new standards were implemented, the proportion of entrees consumed rose from 72.3 to 87.9 percent, an increase of 15.6 percentage points."
  • "The proportion of students selecting fruit increased from 52.7 to 75.7 percent, a jump of 23 percentage points."
  • "While the percentage of students selecting vegetables didn't change, portion consumption increased from 24.9 to 41.1 percent, a rise of 16.2 percentage points."
  • "Levels of food waste remain high, even if the new nutrition standards did not cause them to increase. Students discarded approximately 60 to 75 percent of the vegetables and 40 percent of the fruits they selected."
The researchers who conducted the study—Juliana F. W. Cohen, Scott Richardson, Ellen Parker, Paul J. Catalano and Eric B Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health—concluded that levels of waste were high both before and after the program, but the new standards have improved the quality students' diets. (Read more)

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