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School Resources and Engagement in Technical Assistance Programs Is Associated with Higher Prevalence of Salad Bars in Elementary School Lunches in the United States

Ohri-Vachaspati P, Turner L, Adams MA, Bruening M and Chaloupka FJ. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2015. [E-pub ahead of print]

Background: Salad bars have been promoted as a strategy for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in schools.

Objective: To examine school-level resources and programs associated with the presence of salad bars in elementary schools and to assess whether there were differential changes in salad bar prevalence based on school-level resources and programs before and after the new US Department of Agriculture schools meals standards were proposed (January 2011) and implemented (July 2012).

Design: Repeated cross-sectional design. Data were collected annually between 2006-2007 and 2013.

Setting: Nationally representative sample of 3,956 elementary schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. School personnel (ie, administrators and foodservice staff) provided data using a mail-back survey.

Measures: Presence of salad bars in school was the primary outcome variable. School-level programs and resources were investigated as independent variables.

Statistical Analysis: Weighted logistic regression analyses examined associations between dependent and independent variables controlling for school demographic characteristics.

Results: Prevalence of salad bars increased significantly from 17.1% in 2006-2007 to 29.6% in 2012-2013. The prevalence of salad bars was significantly higher among schools that participated in the Team Nutrition program (odds ratio [OR] 1.37, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.70), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.95), a Farm to School program (OR 1.77, 95% CI 1.36 to 2.33), and where school meals were provided by a foodservice management company (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.08 to 1.97). No association was found for schools with full-service kitchen, school gardens, those offering nutrition education, or those with dietitians/nutritionists on staff.

Conclusions: Prevalence of salad bars increased significantly after the US Department of Agriculture school meal guidelines were proposed and implemented. It is likely that schools are using salad bars to offer a variety of fruits and vegetables to students, and schools with greater numbers of school-level resources and programs are better positioned for having salad bars.

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