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    Did school lunch changes improve nutrition?


    Some groups were initially concerned about the cost of the program, and how schools would cope and continue to meet growing demands for student nutrition.

    More children depend on school breakfast and lunch programs than ever before, and many even continue nutrition programs in the summer months. According to the USDA, 163.5 million summer meals were provided to children compared to just 2.2 million in 1969.

    More: 4 behaviors to target in obesity prevention

    The cost of many school meals are supplemented today, and children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals. Students from families with incomes between 130% and 185% (between $31,525 and $44,863 in 2015) of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. According to the USDA, 15% of children received free or reduced-price lunches in 1969 compared to 72.6% in 2015.

    According to the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the revised nutrition standards came at a cost, increasing the cost to prepare school lunches by 10 cents each, and 27 cents per breakfast—but federal funding increases to cover the changes equaled just 6 cents for lunch and nothing for breakfast. As a result, SNA says schools have had to find ways to make up these costs, with most opting to cut staffing in cafeterias. The SNA recently penned a letter to Congress about the cost burden, and advocates revising portions of the new standards, such as the heavy whole grain requirement.

    While participation rates have remained steady, Podrabsky’s study did not review how much of the lunches students were actually eating. However, previous studies indicate the food waste rates in school cafeterias did not change after the new lunch standards were implemented.

    In terms of the quality of school lunches, the study found that the mean adequacy ratio of nutrient density increased from 58.7 before HHFKA implementation to 75.6. Energy density decreased, from a mean density of 1.65 before the changes to 1.44 after, according to the study.

    NEXT: Why good nutrition in schools is important

    Rachael Zimlich, RN
    Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare ...


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