Study finds elementary students like new healthier lunches

July 23, 2014, The Wall Street Journal

By Caroline Porter and Stephanie Armour

A new study reveals that the healthier school lunches despised in 2012 are now found to be agreeable among students and staffers.

When the federal government implemented new school meal regulations in 2012, a majority of elementary school students complained about the healthier lunches, but by the end of the school year most found the food agreeable, according to survey results released July 21.

The peer-reviewed study comes amid concerns that the regulations led schools to throw away more uneaten food and prompted some students to drop out of meal programs.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago surveyed administrators at more than 500 primary schools about student reaction to the new meals in the 2012-2013 school year. They found that 70 percent agreed or strongly agreed that students, by the end of the school year, generally liked the new lunches, which feature more whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and lower fat levels. Continue reading

Child obesity levels hold steady in West Virginia

July 23, 2014, The Herald-Dispatch

One of the early signals that West Virginia was developing a child obesity problem came from the work of Huntington, W. Va., native Dr. William A. Neal. For the past 16 years, Neal has been checking the weight and health of elementary school students in the state through the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s CARDIAC Project.

Neal began to raise concerns more than a decade ago, and… in recent years, West Virginia has been the vanguard of a national crisis of childhood obesity.

But this year’s research shows some signs of progress, according to a report in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram.

The state’s obesity rate among fifth-graders has remained steady at 28 percent, and there have been some declines in the prevalence of hypertension, indicators of prediabetes, and some cholesterol levels. That likely indicates an improvement in diet, and changes in school lunch programs could be a factor. Continue reading

Once-hailed salad bars gone from city’s schools

May 27, 2014, The Boston Globe

By James Vaznis

They stopped selling junk food at lunch and they persuaded a health-conscious food organization to donate a salad bar for their cafeteria so students could eat fresh romaine, cherry tomatoes, and bean salads instead of ice cream and potato chips.

By all accounts the fight against childhood obesity and diabetes appeared to be on the upswing at The Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain. The salad bar, offered twice a week to the upper grades, was a big hit with about half the students.

But it’s gone.

The School Department has refused to stock the salad bar since September and — to the horror of the school’s health and wellness committee — has reinstated the sale of snacks, including cookies and Doritos, during lunch. Continue reading

Chocolate milk ban in the school lunch rooms may not be effective

April 17, 2014, Red Orbit

Citing insufficient nutritional value, some schools have banned chocolate milk from their lunch programs and offered skim milk instead. However, that move may be counterproductive as a new study published in PLOS ONE has found that kids who no longer have the choice on chocolate milk take 10 percent less milk and waste 29 percent more.

The researchers came to their conclusions after looking at school lunch programs in 17 Oregon elementary schools — including 11 where chocolate milk had been removed from the cafeterias and substituted with skim milk. Although this strategy removed the added sugar in chocolate milk, the researchers saw negative nutritional and economic consequences.

While the kids did have a lower intake of added sugars due to the switch, they were also found to be consuming less calcium and protein. In addition to seeing lower milk sales and higher milk waste, the study team also found a 7 percent drop in school lunch participation. Continue reading

Free drinking water available to most U.S. kids at school lunch

April 9, 2014, HealthDay

Most schools meet a new U.S. government requirement to provide free drinking water for students during lunchtime, a new study finds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rule for schools in the National School Lunch Program took effect at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

Most schools fulfill the requirement by having water fountains in the cafeteria, providing cups for use at drinking fountains, placing water pitchers on lunch tables, and offering free bottled water.

Schools in the south were more likely to meet the requirements than those in other regions of the nation, according to the study published April 9 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Continue reading

New school meal standards significantly increase fruit, vegetable consumption

March 4, 2014, Harvard School of Public Health News

New federal standards launched in 2012 that require schools to offer healthier meals have led to increased fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. The study, the first to examine school food consumption both before and after the standards went into effect, contradicts criticisms that the new standards have increased food waste.

“There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards. We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts,” said lead author Juliana Cohen, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.

Some 32 million students eat school meals every day; for many low-income students, up to half their daily energy intake is from school meals. Under the previous dietary guidelines, school breakfasts and lunches were high in sodium and saturated fats and were low in whole grains and fiber. The new standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed to improve the nutritional quality of school meals by making whole grains, fruits, and vegetables more available, requiring the selection of a fruit or vegetable, increasing the portion sizes of fruits and vegetables, removing trans fats, and placing limits on total calories and sodium levels. Continue reading

Cornell nutrition report cards show students eat healthier when their parents are watching

Jan. 21, 2014, Poughkeepsie Journal

Researchers at Cornell University have found a low-cost way to convince students to pass up cookies and desserts at lunchtime and select fruits and veggies instead: Letting them know that their parents are watching.

A pilot study for nutrition report cards was conducted two years ago in Waverly Central School District. Parents who signed up to participate were emailed the weekly report cards that listed the foods their children were selecting à la carte during lunch. The students’ choices were tracked electronically through modified cash registers.

Despite being called report cards, the students were not awarded actual grades. But simply knowing their parents were monitoring their habits was enough to get students to pick fewer sweets and flavored milk and opt for vegetables and fruits more frequently. Cookie consumption alone dropped from 14.3 percent to 6.5 percent. Continue reading

First-ever census reveals growing popularity of Farm to School program

Oct. 22, 2013, The Washington Post

By Tim Carman

More than 40 percent of the U.S. public school districts that responded to a historic census said they were participating in a program that helps bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias. The percentage of participating schools was even higher in Maryland, Virginia, and the District, where the program has taken deep root.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first-ever census of school districts across the country revealed how popular the national Farm to School program has become in recent years: About 43 percent of U.S. school districts — or about 38,600 schools — bought local produce for their students during the 2011-2012 school year, investing more than $354 million in farms near their communities. Another 13 percent said they would be participating in the program “in the near future.” Continue reading

Improving school lunch by design

Oct. 16, 2013, The New York Times

By Courtney E. Martin

What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?

In spring 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District (S.F.U.S.D.) began a five-month collaboration with the design firm IDEO to re-imagine the school food system. This effort might not sound unique. Childhood obesity has become a hot topic, in large part thanks to the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and projects by high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters have aimed at getting fresh, healthy foods in schools.

In this case, however, the adults aren’t as concerned with what students are eating as they are with how they are eating.

“When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,” explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. “The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?” Continue reading

Cafeteria debit cards tied to unhealthy school lunches: Why paying with plastic could be hurting kids

Oct. 11, 2013, Medical Daily

By Chris Weller

Dropping a handful of quarters into the waiting palm of a lunch lady is quickly getting replaced by rapid, blurry swipes of a debit card, and the proliferation in cafeterias around the country has two researchers pushing for greater monitoring of children’s unhealthy spending habits.

Cornell University behavioral economists David Just and Brian Wansink recently investigated the school lunch choices of 2,314 children around the United States. The team compared calorie counts in meals purchased in schools that were debit-only to those that accepted both cash and debit cards. Meals purchased in debit-only schools not only had more calories than in other schools, but also contained a greater number of calories from high-fat, high-sugar foods.

“There may be a reason for concern about the popularity of cashless systems,” the researchers said in a university press release. “Debit cards have been shown to induce more frivolous purchases or greater overall spending by adults and college students.” Continue reading