Consumption of Low-Nutrient, Energy-Dense Foods and Beverages at School, Home, and Other Locations Among School Lunch Participants and Nonparticipants

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) play a pivotal role in contributing low-nutrient, energy-dense calories to the diets of schoolchildren. Tracking dietary patterns related to low-nutrient, energy-dense items (LNEDs) at various consumption locations helps describe overall energy intake.

This report used data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III) to examine dietary patterns related to participation and nonparticipation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Twenty-four hour dietary recalls captured the time, name, contents and source of each meal. Detailed tabulations relate school meal participation and nonparticipation, school level, overall energy intake, and intake of low-nutrient, energy-dense food items.

Key Findings:  

  • Energy from SSBs accounts for the entire energy differential between SSB consumers and nonconsumers at the elementary school level. At the secondary school level, SSB-derived energy accounts for over half of the difference.
  • NSLP participants are significantly less likely than nonparticipants to consume sugar-sweetened beverages at school. The differential is greatest at the elementary school level where SSB consumption is more than four times greater for nonparticipants.

This study intended to test the hypothesis that NSLP participants eat more low-nutrient energy-dense calories at home to make up forgoing them at school. Evidence was not found to support this claim.