Summary: Availability of Lower-Sodium School Lunches and the Association with Selection and Consumption among Elementary and Middle School Students

In 2010 the US Department of Agriculture set up three target goals for reducing the consumption of sodium in school lunches. In 2018 target 2 was delayed till 2024, and Target 3 was eliminated altogether due to concerns of the availability and acceptability of lower-sodium foods. Dr. Juliana Cohen, associate professor of the Department of Health Sciences at Merrimack College and adjunct associate professor of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, published a study determining the consumption of school meals that are in alignment with the Target 2 and Target 3 sodium standards. Co-authors include EVERGREEN members Drs. Eric Rimm and Scott Richardson. This study was recently published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Data was collected from 13 elementary schools (kindergarten-8th grade) in New England. The schools had standard cafeterias, enhanced cafeterias, or prepackaged cafeterias. Students would voluntarily participate. On the days the school was observed the plate waste measurement was taken as well the sodium levels of each dish served. They found that 87% of meals met with the Target 2 sodium standards and 34% met with the Target 3 sodium standards. There was no association between a lower consumption rate and lower sodium. Therefore the delay of Target 2 and Target 3 is unwarranted. Due to the limitations of this study further research will be required to ensure consumption of low sodium school meals remain high, and to regulate the amount of added sugars that can be used in low sodium foods.

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Publication: Cohen J. F. W.,  Richardson S., Roberto C. A., & Rimm E. B. (2021). Availability of Lower-Sodium School Lunches and the Association with Selection and Consumption among Elementary and Middle School Students. J Acad Nutr Diet. 121(1):105-111.e2.