Who would have thought that cafeteria food would make the grade? Researchers from Tufts University found that U.S. kids are getting more nutritious foods from school than people do from anywhere else. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, analyzed the diets of 39,757 adults and 20,905 children in 2003–2004 and 2017–2018. They found that the nutritional quality of food consumed from restaurants, grocery stores and worksites has experienced only modest improvements. Restaurants, for instance, went from 65.4% of meals defined as poor in nutritional quality to 65.2%.
But schools have learned better habits! Only 24% of the cafeteria food served in school were said to be poor in nutritional quality in 2017–2018. This was down from 56% in the earlier study period. In fact, the investigators suggest that the school setting is where Americans are now getting the healthiest meals most consistently. (This is in contrast to home-packed school lunches and snacks, which another study found are still skewed toward highly processed foods.)
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act has likely influenced these results. This legislative policy strengthened funding for child nutrition programs through the USDA. For everywhere else? It appears other sources need a lot more education.
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