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School Nutrition

Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese. Between 1976-1980 and 1999-2000, the prevalence of obesity among 12-19 year-olds has tripled.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, less than 40% of children and adolescents in the United States meet the U.S. dietary guidelines for saturated fat and eighty-five percent of adolescent females do not consume enough calcium. According to the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2009 only 22.3% of high school students reported eating fruits and vegetables five or more times daily during the past 7 days.  The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides meals for more than 30 million children each day and operates in more than 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools.  The School Breakfast Program (SBP) provides breakfast to more than 10 million students each day.  Both the NSLP and the SBP can have a significant role in child nutrition and the public health concern of childhood obesity.    


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    • The CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health maintains a webpage with annotated links to several topics related to child nutrition and school meal programs including sections on 1) Data, 2) Science-based Strategies, 3) Policy Guidance, and 4) National, State and Local Programs.
    • CDC Features published an October 2009 article, “Promoting Healthier Foods and Beverages in U.S. Schools” that describes selected current school nutrition policy issues as they relate to children’s food choices and childhood obesity in the school setting. 
    • The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (October 5, 2009) reported data from the School Health Profiles survey of schools from 40 states for the years 2002 through 2008.  The article notes that foods and beverages offered or sold outside of the NSLP and SBP are generally of lower nutritional quality than foods offered in the programs.  The data show that the percentage of schools in each state offering soft drinks, sports drinks, candy and salty snacks has decreased during the study period, but still varied widely among states.


  • United States Department of Agriculture
    • The USDA Food and Nutrition Service maintains a website with links to each of the school meal programs.  The website also spotlights specific initiatives of interest such as the Farm to School Initiative. 
    • The USDA maintains a fact page about the National School Lunch Program.  The page was last updated in August 2009 and includes data through the 2008 school year.
    • The USDA supports an initiative to enhance child nutrition programs through training and technical assistance.  “Team Nutrition” offers training and technical assistance to food service, nutrition education, and community programs for healthy eating and physical activity.


  • Institute of Medicine (IOM)
    • USDA Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements provide the foundation for the school meals programs. The USDA requested an IOM committee to provide recommendations for the updating and revision of the Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements for the school lunch and breakfast programs to bring them into alignment with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.   The 2008 Phase I report outlines the proposed criteria necessary to develop recommended revisions to the Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements and establishes a methodology for reporting and assessment. 
    • As stated by the IOM Committee in 2009, in the Phase II report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, “The IOM committee recommends that USDA adopt standards for menu planning that include 1) increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, 2) setting minimum and maximum levels of calories, and 3) focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium.” 
    • The IOM has reported on competitive foods in schools.  In the 2007 report titled, “Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth” the committee of experts recognizes that schools provide an increasing number of opportunities for students to purchase foods outside of the NSLP and SBP.  The report recommends that schools increase the number of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy products in competitive food offerings.
    • The IOM Report Brief, “Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity” published in September 2009, has a number of recommended “action steps” local governments and school systems can take to promote a healthy weight among the nation’s youth.  An example of the action steps includes making free, safe drinking water available in public places and facilities.  The link below will lead you to the IOM Report Brief and an example of a state jurisdiction implementing this action step can be found in the California link located later on this page.


Policy and Regulation

  • School Nutrition Association (SNA)
  • Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)
    • FRAC is a national nonprofit organization that works to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to end hunger in the United States. FRAC’s staff work on policy issues related to a variety of hunger and nutrition programs, including food stamps, WIC, school lunch and breakfast, summer and afterschool meals, as well as related hunger and obesity issues.  FRAC maintains a current webpage that describes the NSLP and includes multiple relevant policy links.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
    • CSPI maintains an internet page titled, “Policy Options: Improve School Meals” that provides a series of links to various studies and reports including the USDA reports from 2001 and 2007 titled, “School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study II” and “School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study III.”

Federal Legislation Related to School Meals

  • Authorization note:
    • The SBP and the NSLP are permanently authorized. Other child nutrition programs must be reauthorized every five years. For example, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), State Administrative Expenses (SAE), the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and similar smaller child nutrition programs must be reauthorized because Congress includes sunset dates in their authorizing legislation. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 expired on September 30, 2009 and was extended until September 30, 2010.
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Examples of State and Local Legislation Related to School Nutrition

  • National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
    • Last updated in January 2010, the NCSL maintains a web page titled, “Childhood Obesity: 2009 Update of Legislative Policy Options.”  The webpage provides a summary of state level legislation on several topics related to childhood nutrition including school nutrition legislation.
  • National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
    • NASBE maintains a comprehensive summary of state legislation related to school policies and state laws related to competitive food and drinks in the school environment.  The “State School Healthy Policy” database includes data on policies and laws for all 50 states relating to vending machines in the school setting, foods available through school stores and a la carte lines, food sales in school, food marketing,foods sold as fund raisers, and school gardening.
  • California
    • In a 2005 press release by the Governor’s Office, the office links to the following bills signed into California law: SB12 established California’s food nutrition standards for K-12 public schools; SB281 provided $18.2 million to promote a framework for increasing fruits and vegetables in school meal programs; and SB965 banned all soda in middle and high schools.
    • In a 2010 press release by the Governor’s Office, the office links to proposed legislation that increases accessibility to free drinking water during school mealtimes and eliminates electrolyte replacement drinks in the school setting.
  • Kentucky
    • Since 2005, Kentucky state law requires the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate an administrative regulation that restricts the sale of beverages to water, 100% fruit juice, low-fat milk and any beverage that contains less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.  This limitation applies to vending machines, school stores, canteens, or fundraisers that sell beverages to students, teachers or groups.
  • Louisiana
    • In 2009, the legislature enacted HB 767 which defines specific standards for the types of beverages that schools can serve or make available in the school setting.  The statute requires beverages offered for sale to high school students to be comprised of bottled water; no-calorie or low-calorie beverages that contain up to 10 calories per eight ounces; up to 12 ounce servings of beverages that contain 100 percent fruit juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per eight ounces; up to 12 ounce servings of any other beverage that contains no more than 66 calories per eight ounces; or low-fat milk, skim milk and nondairy milk.
  • Philadelphia
    • An article published in the journal Pediatrics (2008) describes a community originated, two year, school-based intervention to prevent overweight and obesity.  The intervention, taking place in the City of Philadelphia School District included implementing, in part, a comprehensive school nutrition policy to reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity among school age children in grades 4 through 6 who attended public schools.  Researchers studying the program found it resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of children in the intervention group being overweight.  No differences were observed related to obesity incidence.  A comprehensive review of the program can be accessed on the Food Trust website.  The second link leads to the study publication available on-line at no fee by Pediatrics.

DISCLAIMER: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.

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