A new study published in Childhood Obesity has again confirmed that students are consuming healthier food at school as a result of the updated meal standards. The study further demonstrates that, contrary to anecdotal reports, the new standards are not contributing to an increase in plate waste. The study was conducted by researchers from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, the University of California Berkeley, and Yale University.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released the following statement on the report’s findings:
“Updated healthy school meal standards were developed based on doctors’ recommendations to help ensure our children would be able to get healthy food at school. This new study adds to a growing body of scientific evidence/research that shows these standards are working. It is clear that kids are now eating healthier food and throwing less food away. This is good news for parents and teachers, who overwhelmingly support healthier meals because they know kids learn better when they have proper nutrition. For Congress to meddle with doctors’ recommendations and go back to less healthy meals now would not be in the best interest of our children.”
This new study is very encouraging because it shows that the updated standards for school meals are helping students eat healthier. USDA’s updated nutrition standards for school meals—which have been implemented successfully by more than 90 percent of schools nationwide—are working. Here are some of the key findings from the report:
More students are now choosing to add fruit to their lunch tray than they were before the updated standards went into effect (54 percent in 2012 to 66 percent in 2014).
The percentage of the vegetables on their plates students consumed increased by nearly 20 percent, decreasing the amount of vegetables thrown away.
Students consumed more of their lunch entrées (71% in 2012 to 84% in 2014), which also decreases food waste.
This study follows on a previous study on school nutrition by Harvard University School of Public Health which found that student consumption of fruits and vegetables increased by 23 and 16 percent, respectively, and that the updated meal standards did not increase plate waste per student. The study released by the Rudd Center continues to refute the anecdotal reports of increased plate waste as a result of the healthier meals being served in schools.
Together, these studies are good news for parents and students. We know that over 70 percent of parents nationwide favor strong nutrition standards for food served in school, and that schools are seeing widespread acceptance of the healthier meals by students across all grade levels. In fact, 70 percent of elementary and middle school students and 63 percent of high schools like the new, healthier meals.
USDA is working closely with the school nutrition community to help overcome barriers to serving healthier school meals and ensuring that all children have access to safe, healthy meals. Throughout the month of March, which is National Nutrition Month, USDA will highlight several initiatives designed to support schools and the implement the healthier meal standards, and support America’s children so they can grow strong.
Read the full report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, University of Connecticut: New School Meal Regulations Increase Fruit Consumption and Do Not Increase Total Plate Waste