Slow Progress in Changing the School Food Environment

This article examines the school food environment in elementary schools and reports on practices during the 2009–2010 school year compared with the same practices in 2006–2007 after the wellness policy mandate took effect.

Using the School Food Environment (SFE) score, this study examined changes over time and also considered geographic variations. A higher score indicated a more healthy food environment. Nationally representative, cross-sectional survey data were gathered from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program, Bridging the Gap. Data were gathered from the 2006–2007 and 2009–2010 school years for 578 and 680 public schools, and 259 and 313 private schools, respectively. Public and private elementary schools were analyzed separately. Competitive foods, school lunches, and other food-related items such as a health advisor on staff or a school garden were assessed.


Key Finding:

  • The SFE score increased over time, yet the magnitude of change was small. Public schools scored higher (healthier) overall than private schools.

This study was uniquely able to examine the same topics three years apart using the same measures and methods. While practices did improve, the overall magnitude of change was minimal. There remains much room for improvement in the school food environment for the health of the nations’ youth.