A new study found that California high school students consumed fewer calories, less sugar and less fat at school than students in states that allowed schools to sell unhealthy snacks and drinks outside of meals. California students consumed a total of 158 fewer calories per day, on average, with the difference coming largely from decreased consumption while at school.
The researchers analyzed students’ dietary intake—both in and outside of school—from February to May 2010 and found no evidence that California students consumed more calories outside of school to compensate for consuming fewer calories at school. The authors found similar results when they repeated the analysis with only Hispanic students, a population with particularly high rates of obesity.
The study also showed that California students took in fewer vitamins and minerals at school than students in other states. Overall, the nutritional composition of students’ in-school diets was similar across all states in the study. According to the authors, this was not surprising because California restricted sales of less healthy foods, but did not require schools to offer healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Other studies have shown that many California schools offered foods like baked chips, which meet the state’s nutrition standards, but offer little nutritional value.
California was one of the first states to set strong nutrition standards for competitive foods—those foods and beverages sold through vending machines, à la carte cafeteria lines, school stores and other sources outside of school meals. Starting in July 2007, the state limited the calorie, fat, saturated fat and sugar content of snacks sold in schools. In July 2009, it banned the sale of all soda and some other sweetened beverages in high schools.