Academic journal article Childhood Obesity

Perceived Reactions of Elementary School Students to Changes in School Lunches after Implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture's New Meals Standards: Minimal Backlash, but Rural and Socioeconomic Disparities Exist

Academic journal article Childhood Obesity

Perceived Reactions of Elementary School Students to Changes in School Lunches after Implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture's New Meals Standards: Minimal Backlash, but Rural and Socioeconomic Disparities Exist

Article excerpt

[Author Affiliation]

Lindsey Turner. 1 Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL. 2 Present affiliation: College of Education, Boise State University, Boise, ID.

Frank J. Chaloupka. 1 Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL. 3 Department of Economics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Address correspondence to: Lindsey Turner, PhD, Research Associate Professor, College of Education, Boise State University, 1910 University Drive, Boise, ID 83725, E-mail: lindseyturner1@boisestate.edu

Introduction

Most US children's diets exceed recommended levels of sugar, fat, and sodium1 and are deficient in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.2-4 Given the documented role of foods and beverages consumed at school in contributing to children's excessive intake of solid fats and added sugars,5 the school food environment has received much attention recently. Nationally representative data on school lunches from the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-IV in 2009-2010 showed that elementary school lunches as offered and served exceeded recommendations for average percentage of daily calories from solid fats and added sugars and fell short of recommended daily amounts of vegetables and whole grains.6

The majority of US public schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which is administered by the USDA, and provided meals to 31 million students in 2012.7 Until recently, USDA meals standards had not been updated for 15 years, but as directed by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,8 the USDA revised the meals standards to align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.9 New standards were released in 2012,10 requiring implementation in the 2012-2013 school year.

The updated USDA standards for lunches11 required that by 2012-2013 half of grains offered must be whole-grain-rich products, with phase-in so that by 2014-2015 all grains are whole-grain rich. Both a fruit and a vegetable must now be offered daily, with a variety of vegetables to be served within a week, including dark green vegetables, red/orange vegetables, legumes, starches, and other vegetables. Milk is limited to nonfat or low-fat (1%) milk (sweetened flavored milk is only allowed if nonfat). Limits on saturated fats did not change from the previous standards, but trans fats were limited to zero, and new targets for lower sodium content were established. Although the new USDA meal standards do not restrict any particular foods--such as those common in school meals and often high in fat, such as pizza and fries--in some schools these foods have been removed from menus or revised to better meet the nutritional standards. For example, some schools offer more-healthful versions of pizza by using lower-fat cheese, vegetables instead of meats for toppings, and whole-grain crusts.

The new standards bring the potential for major improvements in the quality of school lunches, but also created many implementation challenges for school and district food service personnel.12 A recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicated that student participation in the NSLP dipped by 3.7% from 2010-2011 to 2012-2013 and concluded that decreased participation--which occurred mainly among full-price-paying students--may have been the result of increased meal prices and/or decreased student acceptance of the new lunches.13 The GAO also surveyed state child nutrition directors during the summer of 2013, and respondents confirmed that implementing the new regulations had been challenging.13 Difficulties included challenges in planning new menus, increased costs resulting from more fruits and vegetables, and dealing with plate waste from food thrown away, rather than being consumed, by students. …

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