Schools serving somewhat healthier lunches, but short on physical activity, national survey shows

The nation’s middle and high schools are feeding students somewhat healthier lunches, but are falling short in providing physical activity to students, a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation‘s Bridging the Gap program has found. And while soft drinks and sugary snacks are available in most schools, Kentucky is an exception.

The report, which analyzed the 2007-08 school year, found schools are offering fruits and vegetables most or every day, more whole grains and fewer helpings of french fries. However, there is still considerable progress to be made, the foundation says; pizza is available most every day, too, and students could buy sugar-sweetened drinks in vending machines, à la carte lines, store or snack bars at 71 percent of middle schools and 92 percent of high schools.

Those numbers are lower in Kentucky due to a state mandate enacted in 2005. That law prohibits students from beign served anything but water, 100 percent fruit juice, low-fat milk or beverages that have fewer than 10 grams of sugar per serving during the school day. It also prohibits anything but those types of drinks from being available in school vending machines during the school day.
In the 2008 national survey, principals said 1 in 4 middle-school students ate breakfast at school and nearly 3 in 4 ate lunch there. But among high-school students, only 18 percent eating school breakfast and 60 percent school lunch. In schools with higher percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, “both breakfast and lunch consumption were significantly greater, indicating that school meals were an especially important source of nutrition for students in low socioeconomic status schools,” the report reads.
Physical education was required for a part of the school year for 83 percent of middle-school students, but only 35 percent of high-school students. Only 10 to 13 percent of high-school students and 21 to 24 percent of middle-school students participated in intramural sports and physical activity clubs in 2008. Only a fourth of middle-school students and 14 percent of high-school students biked or walked to school in 2008.
The study is based on surveys that were mailed back from principals, food-service managers and other staff. In 2007, 222 middle schools and 224 high schools responded. In 2008, 265 middle schools and 262 high schools participated in the survey. The response rate from schools was 76 percent in 2007, 77 percent in 2008. The conclusions come in time for the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. (Read more)
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