Does the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Make a Difference? A Comparison of Nutrient Content of Home and SFSP Lunches Consumed by West Virginia Children

Article excerpt

Scholarship and Practice

ABSTRACT

There are few evaluations of nutritional contributions from the Summer Food Service Program (SESP). This study compared the nutritional quality of SFSP lunches with home lunches. Mean protein, vitamin A, calcium, cholesterol, and fiber levels were significantly higher in SFSP lunches. A greater proportion of children met standards for protein and fiber from SFSP lunches and for vitamin C from home lunches. Neither home nor SFSP mean lunch intake levels met the standards for fats, sodium, or calories. While the SFSP successfully supplies many of the nutrient needs of children, improvements are needed in meeting the Dietary Guidelines.

The Summer Food Service Program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), is an entitlement program designed to provide nutritious meals to needy children during the summer months (FRAC, 1998). The SFSP operates in low-income areas where one-half or more of the children are from households with income at or below 185% of the federal poverty guideline, such as in homeless feeding sites and at camps for eligible children (USDA/Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, 2000).

The goal of the SFSP is to serve nutritious meals that meet meal pattern requirements and appeal to children. Because dietary factors can influence the burden of preventable illness and premature death, the government also places a high priority on improving school meals to reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (USDA, 1995). Healthy People 2000 included a goal that 90% of schools would have menus consistent with the nutrition principles in the 1990 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (USDA & USDHHS, 1990; USDHHS, 1990). The SFSP can help promote these guidelines, as well as help children achieve nutritional goals.

The incidence of diet-related diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and some forms of cancer is high in West Virginia (Singh, Kochanek, and MacDorman, 1996). Nationally, West Virginia ranks near the top for the prevalence of obesity (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Adjusted rates for heart disease in West Virginia are 16% above the national average. In recent years, West Virginia has ranked either first or second in the nation for prevalence of hypertension, a risk factor for stroke (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 1996). Eating a healthful diet can reduce risk for all these conditions.

The recent Position of theAmerican Dietetic Association (ADA): Dietary Guidance for Healthy Children Aged 2 to 11 Years (1999) reviewed the impact that school meals have on children's diets. The review recommended that children should achieve healthful eating habits and participate in regular physical activity to promote optimal physical and cognitive development, attain a healthful weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The Summer Food Service Program, therefore, should, in addition to providing a nutritional safety net for low-- income children, follow the Dietary Guidelines as part of comprehensive health promotion services.

The purpose of this study was to describe and compare the nutritional content of lunches consumed at home with lunches consumed at Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites. In addition, the nutritional content was evaluated against nutritional standards, specifically the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

METHODS

Participants

This evaluation project was part of a larger comprehensive study of cardiovascular risk assessment in low-income residents of West Virginia. A sample of convenience of children who attended Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) camps in rural Lincoln and Wayne counties and urban Kanawha County was used. Only children who consumed one lunch at home and one lunch at the EFNEP-sponsored SFSP were eligible for these analyses; thereby, each child serves as his or her own control. …