School Children Are Now Eating More Fruits And Vegetables: Study
March 4, 2014

School Children Are Now Eating More Fruits And Vegetables: Study

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enacted new guidelines for school lunches in 2012, critics of the change said the additional fruits and vegetable that students were now required to select as part of their meal would merely increase food waste.

However, new research from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that the new standards did not increase food waste as critics predicted; the study does suggest that school children were consuming more fruits and vegetables. The Harvard researchers also found that children were eating more of their main entrée since the new guidelines went into effect.

"Many low-income students rely on school meals for up to half of their daily energy intake," said study author Juliana F.W. Cohen, a nutritionist at Harvard. "Therefore, school meals can have important implications for student health. Increased consumption of healthier foods during the school day may result in the displacement of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods that many students are exposed to after leaving school grounds."

In the study, which is set to be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers gathered plate waste data for over 1,000 students in four schools located in an urban, low-income school district in Massachusetts. Data was collected in the fall of 2011, before the new guidelines, and in the fall 2012, after the new rules started. They found that while fruit selection rose by 23 percent – main course and vegetable selection remained unchanged. But when it came to consumption -- eating vegetables rose by over 16 percent and fruit consumption was unchanged. However, because more students picked fruit over vegetables – more fruit was consumed after the new rules kicked in.

The researchers also found that the quantity of food thrown away both pre- and post-regulation continued to be high, with students wasting about 60 to 75 percent of their vegetables and 40 percent of the fruits they were given. The study team noted that the new guidelines did not properly address food waste.

"While the new standards make important changes by requiring reimbursable school meals to have increased quantities of fruits and vegetables and more vegetable variety, this may not be sufficient," Cohen said. "Schools must also focus on the quality and palatability of the fruits and vegetables offered and on creative methods to engage students to taste and participate in selection of menu items to decrease overall waste levels."

While problems with food waste need to be addressed, the researchers pointed out that the new USDA guidelines appear to be a step in the right direction.

"There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards,” Cohen said. “We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts.”

"Overall, the new requirements have led to improvements in student diets and have not resulted in increased food waste," Cohen said. "Lawmakers should not consider further weakening the school meal standards. The new school meal standards are the strongest implemented by the USDA to date, and the improved dietary intakes will likely have important health implications for children."