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.

Who is the Target of Fast Food Marketing?

A research study on youth-focused marketing in and around fast food eateries has concluded that such advertisement is most prevalent in middle-income and Black neighborhoods.

While fast food consumption among adults and caloric consumption among children have both declined, the study found 22 percent of fast food restaurants engaged in direct marketing to youth, most often in Black communities (31 percent) and mid-level-income areas (30 percent), followed by near-low-income areas, and White and Latino neighborhoods (all at 24 percent).  Of the eateries that aimed indoor and outdoor ads at children, 38 percent offered “kids meals”.  Other marketing findings and the larger implications for health policy are included in the December 2012  brief, Child-Directed Marketing Within and Around Fast Food Restaurants, available online at the Bridging the Gap website.

Businesses must market to their target audiences in order to be successful, but awareness of the prevalence and nature of such messaging to youth can encourage family discussions about the impact of too much unhealthy eating, and setting limits for trips to fast food restaurants.



Report Citation: Ohri-Vachaspati P, Powell LM, Rimkus LM, Isgor Z, Barker D and Chaloupka FJ. Child-Directed Marketing Within and Around FastFood Restaurants—ABTG Research Brief. Chicago, IL: Bridging the  Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012.

Record Number Receive Food Stamps

According to the article, Food stamp rolls reach historic levels by Pamela M. Prah at the Stateline.org website, the years of the “great recession” have seen a nationwide increase of participation in the food stamp program. Data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) show the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program (no longer providing actual stamps rather a debit-style card) operating at a 66 percent participation rate nationally with individual state participation rates ranging from 46 to 93 percent. Rates increased in several states over the past year, including Pennsylvania, where the state food stamp usage increased 11 percent between November 2009 and November 2010

Currently, SNAP assists over 43.6 million people – including children – in the United States.

While the economy appears to be slowly rebounding, and hiring by nonprofits is beginning to pick up once again, the impact of the recession continues to be felt by families across Pennsylvania and the nation. It may take years for some families to recover from the fiscal setbacks incurred during these many months.