CDC: Schools offer healthier school meals

by Erica Shaffer
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The CDC reports schools are making progress toward improving the healthfulness of school meals.
The CDC reports schools are making progress toward implementing higher nutrition standards for meals served at school.

ATLANTA – Most schools in the United States have made significant progress toward meeting federal school meal standards, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of schools implementing five of the nine school nutrition standards increased significantly.

CDC researchers analyzed data from the School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS) for 2000, 2006 and 2014 to see how well schools were implementing school meal nutrition practices related to the standards for school meals published by the US Department of Agriculture in 2012.

In 2014, 97.2 percent of school offered whole grains each day for breakfast, while 94.4 offered whole grains for lunch. CDC also found that the percentage of schools offering two or more vegetables for lunch climbed to 79.4 percent from 61.7 percent in 2000. Schools offering two or more fruits each day for lunch advanced to 78.0 percent from 68.1 percent.

Other key findings include:

• 51.8 percent of schools (up from 10.3 percent in 2000) used low-sodium canned vegetables instead of regular canned vegetables;

• 65.1 percent of schools used other seasonings instead of salt, an increase from 32.8 percent in 2000; and

• 68.0 percent of schools reduced the amount of sodium called for in recipes or used low-sodium recipes, up from 34.1 percent in 2000.

“We are encouraged that more schools are offering a variety of fruits and vegetables and finding ways to reduce the sodium content of school meals,” said Caitlin Merlo, MPH, lead author of the study and health scientist in CDC’s School Health Branch. “Schools play a critical role in demonstrating and reinforcing healthy eating behaviors by making sure that nutritious and appealing foods and beverages are available and promoted to students. This is particularly important because children’s eating patterns carry into adulthood.”

CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said schools are healthier than ever, but more can be done to help school children choose healthy meal options. CDC recommended schools are equipped with the proper equipment to prepare and serve fruit vegetables. Among its resources, CDC said schools can assess their nutrition policies and practiced by completing the center’s School Health Index. Districts and schools also can work with CDC-funded staff members in state health departments to offer ongoing training to school nutrition professionals and to provide resource materials to educators and parents.

More information about CDC’s Healthy Schools Initiative is available at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/.

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