A Look at the Research on School Lunches and the Importance of Recess

Over the summer I came across a couple of briefs from Bridging the Gap that I thought might be appropriate to post once the yellow buses started rolling again. One report summarizes research on the changes in the federal lunch program, the other discusses policies on recess.

Although an initial government study found the much debated new nutritional regulations resulted in a decrease in participation in the school lunch program, waste of food, price increases and menu planning challenges between 2010-11 and 2012-13, student opinion of lunches may not be as negative as previously thought. According to the brief, Student Reactions During the First Year of Updated School Lunch Nutrition Standards, data on administrator perception of student opinion of the new meals concluded that while middle and high school students did voice their displeasure about the new lunches (44 and 53 percent, respectively), by the end of the year they were liked “to at least some extent” by students (70 and 63 percent).  Other findings,

  • Among elementary schools, more students complained about the meals in the spring of 2014 than at the beginning of the school year (56 percent versus 64 percent), but 70 percent of those surveyed reported that students generally liked the new lunches.
  • Rural schools reported more student complaints about school lunches than urban schools.
  • Rural schools reported increases in waste (students throwing away food) more than urban schools.

While school lunches are one way to attempt to impact student health and wellness, there has not been as much policy activity around the inclusion of recess time for elementary-school-age students.  Less than half of the school districts in the country have a recommended or required policy regarding daily recess, and just 13 states recommend or mandate recess as part of the daily schedule in elementary schools.  The CDC/Bridging the Gap brief, Strategies for Supporting Recess in Elementary Schools, discusses evidence-based approaches for encouraging physical activity such as recess, including

  • training and technical assistance from states to districts on student health and wellness,
  • upgrades to or maintenance of existing playground and sports equipment, and
  • daily recess as well as scheduled physical education class in elementary schools.

More information on the importance of recess in child development (including academic achievement)  is available at the website for the  US Play Coalition: A Partnership to promote the Value of Play throughout Life  at the Clemson University School of Health, Education and Human Development, including the white paper A Research-based Case for Recess.

 

 

Report Citations:

Terry-McElrath YM, Turner L, Colabianchi N, O’Malley PM, Chaloupka FJ, Johnston LD. Student Reactions during the First Year of Updated School Lunch Nutrition Standards— A BTG Research Brief. Ann Arbor, MI: Bridging the Gap Program, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan; 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Bridging the Gap Research Program. Strategies For Supporting Quality Physical Education and Physical Activity in Schools.Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.