School Lunch Changes, Despite Detractors, Are Working

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Despite early reports that kids were tossing their meals in the trash and suggestions by many that the federal government shouldn’t be forcing an agenda on children’s eating habits despite an obesity epidemic, a report is showing that the rules are working.

It is the federal governments responsibility to oversee school lunches

Whatever you felt about former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s proposed legislation to limit soda sizes, the two are unrelated. You might hate Obama and his wife but it was not her plan that was enacted by the United States Department of Agriculture Healthy. Rather it was the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that capped calories per meal and forced schools to include at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. And it is the federal government’s, and the USDA’s responsibility specifically, to ensure that the 32 million children eating these meals are eating well.

The study involved studying the impact that these meals have had in three middle schools and three high schools in an urban, racially diverse school district in Washington state. The study looked at choices students were making as well as the nutritional value in said meals both before and after the legislation took effect.

The study shows that there was little change in kids that were participating in the plan after the new rules were rolled out nationwide. This was, of course, one of the bigger criticisms of the proposed rule change years ago, one that has proven false.

The researchers also found increases in six core nutrients following the new rules: calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, fiber and protein. While sodium and fat were not included in this study that was published today in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, presumably these amounts were down in the meals being offered.

“This is, in my mind, really verification that implementing these changes are first of all doable,” said Donna B. Johnson, professor in the School of Public Health at University of Washington who was the lead author of the study.

Mindless criticism of the school lunch changes

The overwhelming majority of critics to the plan suggested that the fruit and vegetables would simply be thrown away. While this study didn’t look into that, past studies have shown that food waste hasn’t gone up and with healthier foods on offer, well that just means that kids are eating healthier and that really is the point.

How as a nation can the USDA watch diabetes and obesity on the rise and not do something about a program that they are subsidizing?

You can increase portion size while also lowering calorie counts.

“We tend to eat more if larger portions are put in front of us and if there’s more variety,” Johnson said. “We can use that to our advantage to nudge people along to make good choices.”

Speaking to early criticism of the programd Johnson said, “All I can do is come back and say our study showed it’s working and it’s achieving its intended purpose and millions of students every day are eating healthier meals because of it.”

More research is on the way

Erin R. Hager, and assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland, who did not participate in the study but did write an editorial in the same journal, said that “It’s nice to see in such a well designed study that participation rates did not decline.”

She made her feelings known in her editorial that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act seems to be working but admitted that more information was needed pointing out that while it seems to be working in this urban school district, rural areas with different racial makeups must also be studied.

“This is a new policy so we’re just starting to see these nicely designed studies come out that show an impact or no impact [on what students are eating], and I bet we will see a lot more data in this year come out about consumption and choice,” she told CNN.

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