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    Did school lunch changes improve nutrition?


    Offering good nutrition in schools is critical because so many children depend on schools for their most complete meal of the day, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that children consume up to half of their daily calories during the school day. At least 2 out of 5 children also consumer at least one snack food or beverage at school, accounting for about 400 billion snack food calories in school annually, according to AAP. Requiring schools to offer healthy choices to students—even at a higher cost—is crucial to combatting growing childhood obesity rates, since the school food environment plays a key role is what students know about nutrition, says AAP.

    A 2013 study revealed that children who ate school lunches were more than 12% less likely to develop obesity than their counterparts, and low-income children who receive free or discounted lunches are typically most at risk of developing obesity.

    Next: Why low-income kids are at greater risk of obesity

    Podrabsky says her study reaffirms that the school lunch changes, despite continued concerns raised by groups like the SNA, are right on track. The nutritional benefit is there, and Podrabsky says wider participation in school lunch programs would have an even greater impact.

    “Encouraging all children to participate in school lunch is a good thing for health equity because it becomes more socially acceptable for everyone,” she says. “One reason that low-income children don’t participate is that there is often a stigma associated with free and reduced meals.”

    Pediatricians can play a role in ensuring children receive proper nutrition in school by working with local school districts and parent-teacher associations to advocate for school meal participation and support school wellness programs.

    Additionally, as school lunch and snack programs have improved, there is a new focus for pediatricians to advocate for healthier options sent from home. The AAP released a new policy statement just last year, urging parents to continue the work schools have started by limiting the amount of high-calorie, nutrient-poor snacks sent to school. Snacking guidelines from AAP and other groups can help pediatricians guide parents to make better decision about the lunches and snacks they send to school with their children.

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


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