Nearly one in three school-age children and adolescents in the United States is overweight or obese, and only half of all children ages 2 to 17 meet federal diet quality standards. Maintaining a healthy, age-appropriate diet is one way students can protect themselves against unhealthy weight gain and serious long-term health effects that come with it. A growing body of evidence suggests the school food environment plays a key role in influencing childhood dietary behaviors and weight status.
Each day, more than 32 million children across the United States are served school lunch and more than 12 million children are served school breakfast through the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Children are also offered a wide variety of snack foods and beverages in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria a la carte lines. Children commonly consume up to half their daily calories during the school day, and two out of five students consume at least one snack food or beverage. A recent analysis estimated students consume nearly 400 billion snack food calories in schools annually.
As a result of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, during the 2012-2013 school year, schools started serving breakfasts and lunches that offer children more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and menu items lower in saturated fat and sodium. Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, schools must provide snack options that have fewer than 200 calories and be low in fat, sodium, and sugar.
The new standards are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as the recommendations from nutrition experts at the Institute of Medicine. They vary by age group, with tailored standards for elementary, middle, and high schools. They apply only to foods sold during the school day, not those sold in after school sporting or entertainment events. The new standards also allow schools flexibility to host events such as celebrations and fundraisers. Overall, the standards synthesize the best available evidence about how to design and offer healthy and nutritious meals, snacks, and beverages for school-aged children and adolescents.
Obese children are at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease, and social and psychological problems. Maintaining a healthy, age-appropriate diet is one way students can protect themselves against unhealthy weight gain and the serious long-term health effects that come with it. Since school meals often account for half a child's daily calorie intake, it is important to ensure that the meal options that students choose from are healthy and nutritious.
The AAP continues to play an instrumental role in advocating for healthy and nutritious school foods as well as sustained support for WIC.
- Letter from hundreds of organizations urging investments in child nutrition programs
- USDA's website on the National School Lunch Program
- USDA's website on the School Lunch Program
- Food Resource Action Committee Report analyzing school lunch participation.
- New England Journal of Medicine article about school lunch and its relationship to childhood obesity
- USDA guest blog post by AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, "Sound Nutrition: What Every Child Needs"
- Testimony from AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, on the importance of federal child nutrition programs
- USDA blog post on the What's Shaking initiative, which AAP has joined as a partner
- Letter to the Editor in the Wall Street Journal from Then-AAP CEO Errol Alden, MD, FAAP on the benefits of the Community Eligibility Provision and the importance of strong school meal standards
Team Up for School Nutrition Success
According to the latest USDA data, over 93% of schools are currently meeting the higher nutrition standards that were implemented as part of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. In an effort to help schools that may still be struggling, USDA has launched the Team Up For School Nutrition Success Training Initiative. Through this initiative, 53 schools in need of support participated in a training workshop and received an experienced mentor to identify specific challenges and provide nuanced resources to promote a heathier school day. Topics like menu planning, financial management, procurement, meal presentation and appeal, and youth engagement tactics were covered in the workshop hosted at the University of Mississippi. USDA partnered with the National Food Service Management Institute to pilot the program in the Southeast region in November and will conduct a three, six, and twelve month follow up progress survey with the included schools to gauge the success of the initiative. USDA has announced an expansion of the Team Up Pilot for 2015.
Pursuant to a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), as of July 1, 2014 all foods sold at school during the school day will need to meet nutrition standards. The Smart Snacks in School regulation applies to foods sold a la carte, in the school store, and vending machines. Prior to the regulation taking effect, 39 states already had nutrition standards in place. In preparation for the Smart Snacks standards taking effect, USDA has created a number of resources to help schools.
The issue of school-sponsored fundraisers has received much attention. The Smart Snacks standards only apply to foods and beverages sold to students on the school campus during the school day. They do not apply to foods and beverages sold at events held after school, off campus, or on weekends. The standards give states the flexibility to set a certain number of fundraisers that can sell foods or beverages that do not meet the nutrition standards. However, some states, such as Georgia, have used this flexibility to create a loophole from compliance with the standards by setting a high number for how many exempt fundraisers schools can hold per year.
AAP strongly supports the Smart Snacks in School standards and will be working with other advocates to defend and protect the new standards.
Community Eligibility Provision
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows schools that predominately serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Any school with 40 percent or more "identified students" can participate in CEP. Identified students include those who qualify for free meals because they live in households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), as well as children who are certified for free school meals without submitting a school meal application because of their status as being in foster care, enrolled in Head Start, homeless, runaway, or migrant students. Typically, schools with 75 percent or more free and reduced-price certified students will meet the 40 percent identified student requirement.
In late 2014, USDA announced that the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which allows high poverty schools to offer both breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students, is benefitting more than 6 million children nationwide. As more schools learn about the CEP and its benefits, the number of schools and districts choosing to participate in CEP will likely grow.
In August 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a joint letter to the School Superintendents Association announcing that the CEP is expanding to allow all high-poverty school districts to offer free lunch and breakfast to students without requiring their families to submit applications.
- FRAC Community Eligibility Provision Fact Sheet
- USDA Community Eligibility Provision Website
School Kitchen Equipment
Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) reintroduced S. 540, the School Food Modernization Act (SFMA) in the 114th Congress. The bill, largely the same as the version introduced last Congress, would give school districts and food service administrators the tools and resources they need to prepare meals that meet the updated USDA school food standards by providing loan guarantees for kitchen infrastructure and equipment upgrades, authorizing grants for small but critical equipment purchases, and supporting innovative training opportunities to strengthen the school food service workforce.
In March, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will be awarding over $30 million in grants that will help schools prepare healthy meals for children. $25 million of these grants will help schools purchase needed equipment, and up to $5.5 million will provide additional training for school food service professionals.
Local School Wellness Policy
Each local educational agency that participates in the National School Lunch Program or other federal child nutrition programs is required by federal law to establish a local school wellness policy for all schools under its jurisdiction. In February of 2014, USDA issued a proposed rule on the implementation of local school wellness policies under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The proposed rule would require all local educational agencies participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and/or the School Breakfast Program (SBP) to meet expanded local school wellness policy requirements consistent with requirements set forth in Section 204 of the HHFKA.
The proposed rule would establish a framework for the content of the local school wellness policies, ensure stakeholder participation in the development of these policies, and require periodic assessment of compliance and reporting on the progress of achieving the goals of the local school wellness policy.
Farm to School
AAP has endorsed the Farm to School Act of 2015 (H.R. 1061 and S.569) that was introduced in early 2015 in the Senate and House by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). This bipartisan, bicameral bill aims to improve the successful USDA Farm to School Grant program.
The USDA's Farm to School Grant Program — originally funded as part of the Healthy Huger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — provides resources on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, farmers and government entities to assist in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.