Childhood is a key time to develop attitudes toward food and nutrition and potentially life-long eating habits. School food policies seek to provide and/or encourage healthy food choices during the school day, from offering students free fruits and vegetables outside of standard school meals to outlining limitations on the availability, portion sizes, or sales of sugary drinks.
“Standards such as Smart Snacks in School have largely eliminated sugary drinks in U.S. public schools, but potential effects on obesity in children or long-term health are not known. Also, elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods often have free fresh fruits and vegetables programs, but these have not been expanded to other elementary, middle, or high schools; and potential long-term health effects have not been evaluated,” said senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., dean of the Friedman School.
The study, published in PLOS ONE on July 6, used a comparative risk assessment model to estimate the impact that implementing national food policies in U.S. elementary, middle and high schools could have on dietary intake and body mass index (BMI) in children and what cardiometabolic disease outcomes might be influenced in adulthood.
“As children consume more than one-third of their daily meals and snacks in school, having policies focused on healthy food options in school is important. What we need to know is how these policies are changing food choice, nutrition, and health,” said Katherine L. Rosettie, M.P.H., first and corresponding author of the study. Rosettie conducted the work when she was a research scholar at the Friedman School and she is now a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Fruits and vegetables
The researchers estimated that a provision for free fruits and vegetables would lead to an increase in habitual fruit consumption across school-age children over a period of one-two years, as follows:
- 17 percent increase for children in elementary school;
- 22 percent in middle school; and
- 25 percent in high school.