TUESDAY, April 13, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Taking a deep dive into how Americans eat, a new dietary analysis finds that no matter where people get their food, bad nutrition rules the day, with one key exception: schools.
The conclusion is based on surveys conducted among 61,000 adults and children between 2003 and 2018. Respondents’ answers revealed that the quality of much of the food they’ve been getting from restaurants, grocery stores, work sites, entertainment venues and food trucks has remained consistently poor over the years.
But a very different picture has been unfolding in American schools. During the study period, children have seen the poor nutritional content of their in-school meals (as a percentage of all school-based food on offer) drop by more than half, down from 57% to just 24%.
“That is a very notable finding from our study,” said lead author Junxiu Liu, an assistant professor in the department of population health science and policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. (During the study, Liu was a postdoctoral student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston).
“Across all groups and income levels, the nutritional quality of meals and snacks eaten at school improved dramatically over the study period,” she noted.
Not coincidentally, Liu stressed, that study period coincided with the passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” in 2010, an Obama administration effort to set higher national nutritional standards in schools across the nation.
And the result, said Liu, is that “school is the healthiest place for Americans to eat right now.”
The problem? On average, school meals account for only 9% of all the food a child gets over the course of a year, according to the researchers.
In total, nearly 21,000 children (aged 5 to 19) and almost 40,000 adults (average age of 47) participated in eight successive National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys spanning 16 years. The surveys analyzed actual food consumed, not simply what was available for purchase.