Student Diets Improve With Better School Nutrition Policies: Study
November 14, 2013

Student Diets Improve With Better School Nutrition Policies: Study

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Michigan State University researchers are claiming, in a study published in the current issue of Childhood Obesity, that schools that adopt more healthy nutrition policies for their students will see an improvement in the diets of those students.

“When healthful food options are offered, students will select them, eat them and improve their diet,” Katherine Alaimo, MSU associate professor of food, science and human nutrition said. “Our study shows that schools can make the kinds of changes required by the forthcoming USDA guidelines, and these changes can have a positive impact on children’s nutrition.”

Beginning next summer, the USDA will advise American schools to implement its Smart Snacks nutrition standards. Smart Snacks guidelines aim to limit the amount of calories, salt, sugar and fat in foods and beverages offered in schools. Additionally, Smart Snacks will promote foods containing more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables.

The MSU research team utilized the USDA standards for their research to demonstrate how the Smart Snacks initiative is going to be effective in improving the eating habits of American students.

Schools participating in the study saw a 26 percent increase in fruit consumption by their students. Whole grain consumption increased by 30 percent and vegetables saw a 14 percent consumption increase. The researchers also noted a significant increase among foods containing fiber, calcium and essential vitamins like A and C.

Alaimo and her team used schools that opted to make only limited changes for a comparative analysis against schools that chose to implement more comprehensive healthy dining programs in order to assess differences between the two.

Besides simply offering the healthier choices, schools marketed the more healthful food options while also removing advertisements for unhealthful foods. Even when schools in the study chose only to implement three or more of the new nutrition practices or policies, the school’s students saw an overall improvement in their daily diets.

“Creating school environments where the healthy choice is the easy choice allows students to practice lessons learned in the classroom and form good habits at an early age, laying a foundation for a healthy future,” said Shannon Carney Oleksyk, contributing author and healthy living adviser for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The team comments that their study is unique in that they not only focused on foods consumed while the students were in school but also examined the children’s overall diets.

The MSU team received funding, in part, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program and the MSU AgBioResearch.