A new study offers evidence in support for the rule, but the influential School Nutrition Association wants Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lift that mandate when child nutrition legislation is reauthorized in 2015.
In a study released in early March, Harvard School of Public Health researchers found the updated school nutrition standards helped boost fruit and vegetable selection in a study of 1,000 kids conducted both before and after new standards took effect in 2012.
Research was conducted in four urban, low-income schools. The study found that after the new regulations, the percentage of students selecting a fruit increased from 52.7% to 75.7%. For students who selected a vegetable, both the percentage consumed (24.9% pre-implementation compared with 41.1% post-implementation) and cups per day consumed (0.13 cups/day compared with 0.31 cups/day) improved, according to a news release about the findings.
Harvard researchers said the updated standards that require schools to serve increased fruits and vegetables did not increase plate waste. Still, the study’s authors said plate waste remains significant, with students throwing away up to 75% of vegetables and 40% of fruits on their trays.
“There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards. We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts,” lead author Juliana Cohen, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard said in a news release describing the results.
One fresh produce advocate said the study proved the value of the updated standards.
“This study confirms what we are seeing in schools across the country, the new school lunch standards have resulted in students selecting and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables,” Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association said in a statement. “As the Harvard study concludes, there is no reason for Congress to roll back or weaken the new nutrition standards for school lunch.”
But the study didn’t completely satisfy some critics, who would like to see a broader study of the issue.