School lunches may help to reduce childhood obesity rates in states with strict nutritional standards, according to a recent study published online on April 8, 2013, in JAMA Pediatrics.
Researchers categorized 4870 eighth grade students from 40 states by the type of school lunch they received: free/reduced price, regular price, or none. They then compared 2006-2007 obesity rates and body mass indexes from states with nutritional standards that exceeded the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meal standards with those states that did not exceed or fell below USDA standards.
In states that exceeded USDA standards, the researchers found a smaller difference in the rate of obesity between students who received free or reduced price lunches and those who did not receive school lunches. In states with lower standards, the rate of obesity for students who obtained free or reduced price lunches was 26%, while the rate for students who did not obtain school lunches was 13.9%.
The researchers also found a smaller gap in body mass index between students who received free or reduced priced lunches and those who did not receive school lunches in states with high USDA standard compared with states with lower standards.
The results also showed little evidence that the students in states with strict standards compensated by buying unhealthy snacks and sugary beverages. The authors concluded that while strict meal standards for school lunches may lower obesity rates, nutritional education is still needed.