Summary: The Impact of Healthier School Food Policies on Students’ Diets During and Outside of the School Day

Why is the school food environment important?

  • Roughly 30 million children receive a school meal every day in the United States
  • Many low-income students rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake
  • Between 82-97% of middle and high school students have access to “competitive foods” (i.e. snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, à la carte, and in school stores)

What is the impact of a healthier school food environment on students’ diets both inside and outside of school?

 Juliana Cohen, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Nutrition at Merrimack College published a study examining this important issue in schools along with co-authors and EVERGREEN members, Drs. Eric Rimm and Mary Gorski Findling, as well as researchers at Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and FSG. This study was recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In this study, middle and high school students completed 24-hour recalls where they detailed everything that they had eaten for the past day.  This was done twice before and after both updated school meal and competitive food standards went into effect in Massachusetts.  This study found that with the reduction in the number of unhealthy school snacks, significantly more students selected school meals. Importantly, this study found that students ate fewer unhealthy snacks after school as well. These changes to the students’ diets resulted in consuming significantly less sugar overall. This study provides important new evidence that both national school meal and snack policies may improve daily diet quality and should remain strong.

Interested in learning more? Click here for a link to the full-text publication.

Publication: Cohen, J. F. W., Gorski Findling, M. T., Rosenfeld, L., Smith, L., Rimm, E. B., & Hoffman, J. A. (2018). The Impact of 1 Year of Healthier School Food Policies on Students’ Diets During and Outside of the School Day. J Acad Nutr Diet. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.07.009