Background: Schools are in a unique position to promote healthy dietary behaviors and help ensure appropriate nutrient intake. This article describes the characteristics of both school nutrition services and the foods and beverages sold outside of the school meals program in the United States, including state- and district-level policies and school practices.
Methods: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the School Health Policies and Programs Study every 6 years. In 2006, computer-assisted telephone interviews or self-administered mail questionnaires were completed by state education agency personnel in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and among a nationally representative sample of school districts (n=445). Computer-assisted personal interviews were conducted with personnel in a nationally representative sample of elementary, middle, and high schools (n=944).
Results: Few states required schools to restrict the availability of deep-fried foods, to prohibit the sale of foods that have low nutrient density in certain venues, or to make healthful beverages available when beverages were offered. While many schools sold healthful foods and beverages outside of the school nutrition services program, many also sold items high in fat, sodium, and added sugars.
Conclusions: Nutrition services program practices in many schools continue to need improvement. Districts and schools should implement more food preparation practices that reduce the total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar content of school meals. In addition, opportunities to eat and drink at school should be used to encourage greater daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.