Effect of school wellness policies and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on food-consumption behaviors of students, 2006-2016: a systematic review

Nutr Rev. 2017 Jul 1;75(7):533-552. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux020.


Federal regulation mandates that the US National School Lunch Program nutrition standards align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As students consume a substantial proportion of their nutrition during school lunch, increasing access to healthy foods is proposed to improve student dietary outcomes. The purpose of this review is to assess whether policy changes impacted food-consumption behaviors of students during periods when (1) school wellness policies were implemented (2006-2007); (2) the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed (2010-2012); and (3) the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented (2012-present). PubMed, Web of Science, and Science Direct were searched for primary research studies. Policy evaluations and interventions implemented from 2006 to 2016 were included. A total of 31 studies evaluating plate waste, dietary intake, food selection, and/or purchasing patterns were identified and reviewed. Fourteen of 19 intervention and longitudinal observation studies reported improved food-consumption behaviors (increased selection, intake, and sales of healthy foods, and decreased plate waste). Only 2 of 12 one-time observation studies reported food-consumption behaviors meeting target nutrition standards. The majority of studies indicated that increasing access to healthy foods during school lunch improved students' dietary intakes. Challenges related to study design, adaptation period, quality of foods, and policy implementation likely affect a school lunch program's ability to impact students' food-consumption behaviors. Ongoing evaluation of these programs is warranted.

Keywords: Healthy; Hunger-Free Kids Act; National School Lunch Program; food consumption-related behaviors; nutrition; school-aged children.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diet, Healthy / psychology
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Food Quality
  • Food Services / standards
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Lunch
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Schools
  • Students / psychology*
  • United States