Research Shows Schools Need More Guidance When Implementing Menu and Policy Changes to Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Changing school policies to prevent childhood obesity: Case studies of vanguard schools in California

In the early 2000, California passed groundbreaking legislation that set nutrition standards for foods and beverages in its public schools. For a year, beginning in March 2004, researchers at Samuels & Associates, an Oakland, Calif., research and evaluation firm, conducted in-depth case studies in six California school districts to examine the implementation and effect of these laws.

Key Findings

  • Beverages: Schools were able to remove most sweetened beverages from their campuses.

  • Foods: Three out of four items sold in the case study districts were not in compliance with California nutrition standards.

  • Continuing challenges: Although staff in the school districts studied were highly motivated to change their schools' food and beverage environments, they identified several challenges to implementing nutrition policies, including:

    • Interpreting the policies and translating standards into actual food and beverage products that school districts allow for sale.
    • Fear of decreased revenue.
    • Perceptions that students only purchase highly sweetened beverages and unhealthy snack and fast foods.

Key Recommendations

  • School district and staff-level personnel need technical assistance on how to:

    • Identify which food and beverage products actually meet the standards in the policy.
    • Offer foods and beverages that are appealing to students.
    • Make the changes in a way that is financially feasible.
  • The process of monitoring and implementing the policy should be well defined and the person(s) responsible for monitoring clearly identified, with school food service playing a central role in policy implementation.

  • Evaluate the implementation and impact of the school food and beverage policies to keep public officials and policy-makers informed of their impact.