State Laws Governing School Meals and Disparities in Fruit/Vegetable Intake

Requiring a minimum number of fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs increases overall consumption, especially among teens who do not have regular access to those foods at home.

Policy-makers recently have focused on increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs to promote nutrition and reduce obesity in school-age children.

These University of Illinois at Chicago researchers investigated whether state laws requiring a minimum number of fruits and vegetables (FV) in school meals increased FV consumption in school and at home.

They analyzed dietary intake at home and school for 9,574 students in grades 9–12 in 27 states using National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study data. Only California and Mississippi required a minimum number of FV in school meals (2009–10).

Key Findings:

  • Students in California and Mississippi who obtained school lunches four to five days a week consumed .45 more cups of fruit and .61 more cups of vegetables a day compared to students in states without FV requirements.
  • Students who did not have regular FV access at home and lived in a state without school lunch FV requirements consumed .7 fewer cups of vegetables a day than those with home access. In California and Mississippi, however, the rate was .14 cups fewer.  
  • Overall, FV consumption was lowest among Blacks, Hispanics, boys, and students who consumed more fast food.

“School-based nutrition laws may mitigate the disadvantages that some teenagers face at home,” these researchers write, “but they are unlikely to negate the complex physical, social, and economic deterrents to healthy eating without help from other public and private sectors.”

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State Laws Aimed at Improving School Meals Help Teens Eat More Fruits and Vegetables, New Study Finds

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