Efforts to prevent childhood obesity must reflect student preferences and should address nutrition at school, home and in the community, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found.
For the study, researchers examined a San Francisco Unified School District nutrition program based on the California Childhood Obesity Act of 2003 (SB 677), which sought to eliminate the sale of unhealthy foods, snacks and beverages at all public schools. The study compared school revenue and participation in lunch programs from the 2002-2003 academic year with that of the 2003-2004 year when the nutritional standards were in place. Data from a district-wide survey on student eating habits also was analyzed.
The schools adopted new nutritional standards and changed menu, school store and vending machine offerings, with input from students in some cases.
The study found overall participation in the federally subsidized free school lunch program increased, although participation decreased in the a la carte and snack bar program. The increases may have resulted from increased eligibility for the programs, researchers noted. The findings suggest that students will choose healthier food options if they are available at no additional costs to a school district.
Researchers recommend that school lunch programs "at a minimum" consult students when implementing changes to the school lunch and a la carte menus. Researchers also call on other school districts to report changes in students' eating habits related to changes in local nutritional standards to further evaluate participation in school lunch programs (Wojcicki/Heyman, American Journal of Public Health, September 2006).