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New Study Shows Students Selecting Healthier School Meals After Implementation of Updated Nutrition Standards

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed by Congress just over five years ago, set updated nutrition standards for schools for the first time in fifteen years. Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working hard to ensure that schools implement the new standards so that students can enjoy healthier meals. Currently, 97 percent of schools across the country are successfully implementing the standards, and new research shows students are selecting healthier school meals with the updated nutrition standards in place.

A study released today in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics assessed the nutritional and caloric content of more than 1.7 million school meals selected by students more than a year before and after the nutrition standards were implemented. The results show that students chose healthier foods after the nutrition standards were updated, and the study authors attributed the selection of healthier foods to the increased availability and variety of fruits and vegetables in school meals. The study also shows that participation in the school meals program remained essentially unchanged after the standards were implemented.

This study follows previous research and polls showing support for healthier school meals from students and parents:

  • A poll by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation this summer showed 9 out of 10 Americans feel nutrition standards in schools are important, with 86 percent saying that the current standards should stay in place or be made stronger.
  • A study published earlier this year in Childhood Obesity found that the updated standards were not contributing to plate waste, and that more students chose to take fruit and students consumed more of the vegetables they took in their meals.
  • A poll released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Heart Association in the fall of 2014 showed 91 percent of parents support requiring schools to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal.
  • A survey of school leaders from July 2014 showcased widespread student acceptance of the healthier lunches after the nutrition standards went into effect. 

All of these findings show that the updated school meal standards are working, and that we need to continue the great work happening in schools to provide students with nutritious meals. More than 30 million kids across the nation rely on school meals each day, and for many kids, school is the only place they have access to healthy foods. Let’s set our kids on a path to success by ensuring they continue to have the healthy school meals they need to learn and thrive.