In an age where we are fighting highly-processed and a childhood obesity epidemic, any positive news regarding the acceptability of healthier foods should be lauded. However, in a strange shift of priorities, if you are the School Nutrition Association (SNA), this news is not welcome.
Although its mission statement states that SNA is "the national organization of school nutrition professionals committed to advancing the quality of school meal programs through education and advocacy," their recent actions seem to contradict that vision, or at least prevent advancement in school nutrition. SNA is currently pressuring Congress to repeal the healthy school nutrition standards that were mandated in 2010 under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which helped to set policy and funding for the National School Lunch & Breakfast Programs, as well as WIC. This act marked a real change in policy and the action the government was willing to take to ensure the health and well-being of children.
Now, SNA is arguing against studies that provide the evidence base that children do enjoy healthier meals when they are offered. These two nationwide studies - one appearing in the renowned Childhood Obesity - published in 2014, paint a clear picture of the acceptability of healthier options. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put together a brief based on both articles, which summarizes a few major findings:
- 70 percent of elementary school students generally like the healthier school lunches that began in Fall 2012.
- 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students were also favorable towards the new meals.
- Although students across all grade levels complained initially about the newer options in the fall, by spring there were far fewer complaints.
These findings indicate a highly positive response among school children and show that even if acceptability is slow in coming, children adjust to the changes. Yet, the School Nutrition Association dismissed the findings off-hand, stating that "perceptions about school meals do not reflect reality" and that "more kids aren't buying lunches." This statement unfortunately also suggests that the SNA is more interested in the profitability of school lunches rather than their nutritional value.
If we truly want to change the health profile of students and children in America, we must be willing to put health before profit, listen to the evidence, and have the courage to make radical changes. The SNA could benefit their aforementioned mission by having confidence that children are adaptable and will respond to the changes with both their mouths and money.