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

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.