The Commercial Appeal

Study hints that healthier school lunch can help cut obesity

- Jonel Aleccia

A 2010 federal law that boosted nutrition standards for school meals may have begun to help slow the rise in obesity among America’s children – even teenagers who can buy their own snacks, a new study showed.

The national study found a small but significan­t decline in the average body mass index of more than 14,000 schoolkids ages 5 to 18 whose heights and weights were tracked before and after implementa­tion of the Healthy, Hungerfree Kids Act of 2010.

The study is new evidence that improving the quality of school meals through legislatio­n might be one way to help shift the trajectory of childhood obesity, which has been rising for decades and now affects about 1 in 5 U.S. kids. Whether the program has begun to turn the tide for the whole country, and not just the groups of kids studied, is still unclear. About 30 million children in the U.S. receive school lunches each day.

“You have the potential to really impact their excess weight gain over the course of their entire childhood,” said Dr. Aruna Chandran, a social epidemiolo­gist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She led the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, was the first national legislatio­n to improve school meals in more than 20 years. It increased the quantity of fruits, vegetables and whole grains required in school meals.

The new study analyzed nationwide data from 50 cohorts of schoolchil­dren from January 2005 to August 2016, before the law took effect, and data from September 2016 to March 2020, after it was fully implemente­d. Researcher­s calculated kids’ body-mass index, a weight-to-height ratio.

It found that a body mass index for children, adjusted for age and gender, fell by 0.041 units per year, compared with before the law took effect. That amounts to about a quarter of one BMI unit per year, Chandran said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States