NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 16, 2010

Although most schools participating in federally-funded nutrition programs have adopted wellness policies, the policies are "weak fragments and did not necessarily require that schools to take action" to improve nutrition and reduce obesity, according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).  

According to researchers, the obesity rate among children ages six to 11 increased to nearly 20 percent in 2007-2008, compared with 4 percent in the late 1970s.  Under a directive in the 2004 childhood nutrition law (PL 108-265), schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs were required to set goals for nutrition education and physical activity, as well as meet minimum school meal standards and create guidelines for food sold in vending machines. 

However, the RWJF study found few positive results after it examined the two school years after the policies were supposed to be instituted: 

  • Only about one in five students had access to a salad bar or whole grain foods every school day, compared with six in 10 students who had access to vending machines, stores, snack bars or a la carte items, including french fries, candies and cookies.
  • The meals provided to the students contained high amounts of fat, according to the study.
  • Only one in five third-grade students had a daily physical education class, and only about 40 percent of elementary school students were measured for physical fitness annually. 

According to the study's authors: 

  • The Department of Agriculture should update its regulations to provide more nutritious foods in the programs.
  • Federal reimbursement rates should be increased to cover the costs of providing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to students.  

Legislation introduced last week would incorporate some of the report's recommendations, but lawmakers are looking for ways to offset the bill's costs. 

Source: L. Turner, F.J. Chaloupka, J.F. Chriqui and A. Sandova, "Study Shows Major Changes Needed to Support Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in U.S. Elementary Schools; Practices in elementary schools are not aligned with national recommendations for diet and physical activity," Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, June 8, 2010. 

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