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.

Senior Hunger Threat Remains Higher than Pre-Recession Levels

Food insecurity on the rise among seniors.
Food insecurity is on the rise among seniors.

The number of senior citizens considered food insecure increased by 49 percent between 2007 and 2012 according to a study from The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH).  Using the Three Core Food Security Module to measure risk, study authors Dr. James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Craig G. Gundersen of the University of Illinois found that over 9 million American senior citizens were food insecure, and threat of hunger rates for all senior groups (ages 60 to 69, 70 to 79, and 80+) were higher in 2012 than 2007, even though the recession had ended. The majority of seniors facing threat of hunger due to food insecurity were white with incomes above the poverty line, but both African American and Hispanic seniors were at a higher risk of hunger than whites. Over one-third (35%) had at least one grandchild living with them.

The State of Senior Hunger in America 2012: An Annual Report also ranks states by senior hunger threat, with Arkansas (25.44), Louisiana (23.56), and Mississippi (22.67) having the highest rates in the nation. In 2012, Pennsylvania had a rate of 12.93, down approximately 15 percent from 2011. The NFESH has numerous reports on the threat and consequences of senior hunger at their website.

Food insecurity among seniors may be related to income, neighborhood safety and walkability, and individual physical and mental health, but regardless of the reasons why, the consequences are poor health and a deficit of needed nutrients.  As the Baby Boomers age, it’s likely that we will hear more about senior hunger as a top public health issue.



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)

Rate of Uninsured Children on the Decline

An April 2014 report from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) at School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota contains encouraging news on the impact of programs, such as Medicaid and CHIP, designed to reduce the number of uninsured children.   Between the years of 2008 and 2012, the rate of uninsured children in the United States dropped from 9.7% to 7.5%, according to data reported in SHADAC’s  State-Level Trends in Children’s Health Insurance Coverage. This national trend was mirrored in the 35 states that also reported significant declines in uninsured children during the same time period, with Oregon, Florida, Mississippi and Delaware experiencing the largest reductions.  Additional findings at the national level:

  • The percentage of privately insured low-and-middle-income children declined
  • Hispanic children experienced the largest gains in insurance coverage, yet in 2012 remained the largest group of uninsured persons (12.7%) under age 18
  • The gap between low-income and high-income children’s likelihood of insurance coverage is shrinking

In Pennsylvania, the rate of uninsured children declined from 6% in 2008 to 5% in 2012.






Report Citation: Sonier, J., Fried, B. 2014. “State-Level Trends in Childrens’ Health Insurance Coverage.” Minneapolis, MN: State Health Access Data Assistance Center.

Use of Mobile Technology to Fight Human Trafficking

The Polaris Project launched a short code to help victims of human trafficking - BEFREE
The Polaris Project launched a short code to help victims of human trafficking – BEFREE

Although technology allowed for the spread of human trafficking activities across mobile platforms and sites, anti-trafficking interventions are using mobile media to advocate for and reach potential victims.  In March 2013, The Polaris Project, an organization committed to fighting human trafficking as well as strengthening the anti-trafficking movement, activated a mobile code to assist victims of human trafficking in locating help. This textable short code, BEFREE or 233733, puts a victim in touch with someone who can help them plan an escape from their situation and, if possible, connect them with local resources for further assistance.  After a year of operation, the organization released data that indicate victims of trafficking are utilizing the text option more than the hotline (17 percent versus 9 percent). Other findings include

  • nearly 75 percent of the calls referred to sex trafficking,
  • 68 percent of the calls mentioned one female victim (or more),
  • 8 percent of the calls mentioned one male victim (or more),
  • and adults were the victims in 58 percent of the calls.

In Pennsylvania, data from 2007 to 2013 reported to the Human Trafficking Resource Center show the majority of potential trafficking situations are related to sex (74 percent), followed by labor (16 percent). Additional data on human trafficking in the Commonwealth, as well as resources for those seeking information and assistance, are available on the Polaris Project website



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)