School Food Shows Vast Improvement, but Disparities Remain

Just out today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new research on the nutritional quality of elementary school food across the U.S. The study looked at changes to these foods in over 4,600 schools from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. 

The great news - significantly more schools are offering healthier items (eg., vegetables other than potatoes, fresh fruit) while also offering fewer unhealthy choices (eg., fried potatoes, high fat milks).  This alone confirms that strengthened nutrition standards are having an impact in schools across the nation.

But at the same time, regional and racial disparities remained evident. 

"Schools in the West were significantly more likely to offer salad bars than were schools in the Northeast, Midwest, or South (adjusted prevalence: West, 66.3%; Northeast, 22.3%; Midwest, 20.8%; South, 18.3%). Majority-black or majority-Latino schools were significantly less likely to offer fresh fruit than were predominantly white schools (adjusted prevalence: majority black, 61.3%; majority Latino, 73.0%; predominantly white, 87.8%). Schools with low socioeconomic status were significantly less likely to offer salads regularly than were schools with middle or high socioeconomic status (adjusted prevalence: low, 38.5%; middle, 47.4%; high, 59.3%)."

The takeaway here of course is to keep progressing.  Applaud the good work happening but recognize the stark - and unacceptable - differences in schools throughout the country.  Since we know that one-third to one-half of children’s daily energy intake is from foods and beverages consumed during the school day, policies should focus on this inequality with the goal of ensuring ALL children have access to the healthy foods they deserve.