Blog | January 7, 2016

Improved School Nutrition and Fewer Calories in School Meals

American schools are serving up healthier meals to students. Here’s why that matters to the US military

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics reports the successes of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010.

Major news outlets have written about the JAMA study. CNN noted, “the rules to make school lunches healthier are working.“ According to Time magazine: “The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is giving kids more nutritious food at school.”

This JAMA study is also the first to find that healthier school meals have boosted calcium on lunch trays—another important health issue for the military, which is facing an unprecedented rise in the type of bone injuries associated with poor calcium intake in childhood.

Were school meals really so bad before? Before the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented, high school students ate upwards of 1,000 calories at lunchtime, compared to a recommended intake of 800 calories per meal for a healthy adolescent. This is good news for kids’ health, and for every sector of society that depends on a healthy population. That includes the US military, which needs fitter recruits, and fast: 31% of young adults in the US are now too overweight to qualify for military service.

Prior to 2013, many school kitchens were equipped with deep fryers, but no stovetops. Students were so used to fried foods that when one school introduced grilled chicken for the first time, students picked it up with their hands. Another school food director said that when he first put whole-grain bread on the menu, students were so unfamiliar, they asked, “Why is my toast burnt?”

The military leaders of Mission: Readiness hope that leaders in Congress heed this encouraging evidence and maintain healthy school meal standards when they work on Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), which is up for renewal in 2016.


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