Princeton, N.J.—The following is a statement from Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), reaffirming support for school meals standards.
“Every child deserves a healthy school that provides nutritious food to eat and opportunities to be physically active. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support students’ health and well-being by fully implementing the nutrition standards for school meals that took effect in 2012.
There are promising signs that the efforts by school nutrition professionals on behalf of the more than 30 million children in the United States who participate in school meals programs are paying off. A growing body of research suggests that the standards are working:
- A Healthy Eating Research study examining 1.7 million meals served in six schools in an urban Washington school district found that the meals’ overall nutritional quality increased by 29 percent under the updated standards.
- Bridging the Gap surveys of school leaders nationwide revealed widespread student acceptance of the updated standards. Seventy percent of elementary school leaders reported that students generally like the healthier school lunches; school leaders reported similar results from 70 percent of middle schoolers and 63 percent of high schoolers.
- A Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity study examining 12 middle schools in an urban, low income school district study found that more students chose fruit after the updated standards went into effect (66 percent, up from 54 percent) and that students ate more of their vegetables (64 percent, up from 46 percent) and lunch entrees (84 percent, up from 71 percent).
- A poll released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Heart Association found that among registered voter parents with school-age children, more than 70 percent of those surveyed support the updated nutrition standards.
For the nutrition standards that have already taken effect over the past five years, 99 percent of schools across the country have implemented them successfully, with more than half of states reporting 100 percent compliance. In addition, food and beverage companies have worked diligently to reformulate and modify products to comply with the updated standards. RWJF stands ready to work with USDA to assess continued progress with respect to school meals standards to help kids, families, and communities grow stronger and healthier.
The benefits of healthy school meals extend far beyond the cafeteria. If kids eat well at school, they have better opportunities to perform well in the classroom. They can share healthy eating habits with their peers. And they can bring these lessons home, helping to empower their families to make healthy choices.”