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Nutrition And Schools

Food Consumption By School-Age Children

Almost 80% of high school students do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Children who eat fast food, compared with those who do not, consume more total energy (calories), more energy per gram of food, more total fat, more total carbohydrate, more added sugars, more sugar-sweetened beverages, less fiber, less milk, and fewer fruits and non-starchy vegetables.

Children age nine and older are heavy consumers of sodas. By the time they are 14 years of age or older, 32% of young women and 52% of young men are consuming three or more servings of soda a day. A Missouri study suggested that other sweet drinks, such as fruit juices and fruit drinks, when consumed by those at risk of being overweight, increased the odds of becoming overweight and of remaining overweight.

Reducing easy access to energy-dense foods may help to limit opportunities for overeating.

What Schools Can Do To Improve Childrens' Nutrition

Each day, 28 million school-aged children receive lunch and an estimated 8 million receive breakfast in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast programs supported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Efforts to increase students' consumption of nutritious food may be hindered by the availability of junk foods, the strong impact of advertising on youth's food choices, and private fund-raising efforts that sell high calorie/low nutrition foods to support athletic and extracurricular activities. To address this problem, some states and school districts are limiting the sale of such foods and soft drinks during school hours.

Schools, which are required to follow the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for the school lunch program, are not required to use those standards for foods sold la carte, food sold in snack bars, and food sold through vending machines. Schools can promote healthy eating by providing more nutritious food and beverages through the la carte programs and limiting sweetened drinks and high fat and high sugar snacks in vending machines.

School food service managers and other school officials report that expanding the number and variety of healthy food choices increased the likelihood that students will select them. This is important because, except for meals provided to students eligible for free and reduced-price breakfast or lunch, school food programs are not subsidized and food service managers must sell enough food to cover expenses.

Dietary practices should be fostered that encourage moderation rather than overconsumption, and emphasize healthful choices rather than restricting eating patterns.

What Can Parents Do?

Here are some questions to ask your principal and school board members at your school:
  • Who makes decisions about "what's for lunch"?
  • Who makes decisions about school policy on vending machines, and snacks and sodas in the cafeteria or student store?
  • Who makes decisions about what foods can be sold as part of student activity fund-raisers?
  • How can parents participate in the policy-making process?
  • Does the school or school district post its lunch menus for the week and do the menus provide information about nutrition facts?

Questions to ask your child:

  • What do the kids bring for lunch from home? What do they purchase from the cafeteria or snack stand?
  • How do they rate the food? What do the wish they had more of?

Reprinted with permission from the website of The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools

Last updated March 6, 2009