School Food Environments and Practices Affect Dietary Behaviors of US Public School Children

School food policies related to the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and other low-nutrient, energy-dense food items (LNEDs) have a substantial impact on the dietary intakes of U.S. schoolchildren. At the secondary school level, limiting the sales of competitive foods reduces consumption of SSBs.

Many schools use sales of competitive foods to generate revenue. However, the presence of competitive foods seems to have a detrimental effect on the school food environment. This report on the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III) examines associations of policy and dietary behavior. The research for this article pulled apart the school food environment into separate conceptual domains. The authors assigned scores to an extensive set of variables. These scores controlled for student exposure to various levels of influence within each domain.

Key Findings:

  • The percentage of children consuming SSBs obtained from school sources was 10 times greater at the high school level than at the elementary school level.
  • In elementary schools that offered fresh fruit or raw vegetables, children consumed 36 kcal less LNEDs.
  • Non-Hispanic African Americans consume 70 kcal more energy from LNEDs than non-Hispanic White students.

The cross-sectional nature of the data limits the ability to assign causality.