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Perceived Reactions of Elementary School Students to Changes in School Lunches after Implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture’s New Meals Standards: Minimal Backlash, but Rural and Socioeconomic Disparities Exist

Turner L, Chaloupka FJ. Childhood Obesity, 10(4):349-56, 2014.

Background: Updated standards for meals sold through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program took effect at the beginning of the 2012–2013 school year. The current study assessed the perceptions of school staff regarding student reactions to these changes in school lunches and how perceptions varied across schools.

Methods: Mailback surveys were gathered from administrators and food service staff at a nationally representative sample of 557 US public elementary schools in the second half of the 2012–2013 school year.

Results: Half of the respondents (56.4%) agreed that students complained about the meals at first, but 70% agreed that students like the new lunches. Perceived student complaints were significantly higher among respondents from rural schools (n = 184) than from urban (n = 127) or suburban (n = 171) schools. Respondents at rural schools also were more likely to report that they perceived that fewer students were purchasing the meals and that students were consuming less of the meals than during the previous year. Perceived student complaints were higher at schools not offering regular (i.e., higher-fat) pizza. Respondents at socioeconomically disadvantaged schools ( > 66% of students eligible for free/reduced-priced meals) perceived that more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year.

Conclusions: Perceptions of school personnel suggest reasonable acceptance of school lunches subsequent to revisions. Given the importance of offering healthful foods at school, the revised USDA meals standards are a promising strategy to improve the diets of children.

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