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Parents Overwhelmingly Support School Food Standards


A new survey from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Heart Association indicates that a vast majority of parents support the United States Department of Agriculture’s school meal and “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards.

Guidelines for the types of food sold in lunchrooms have been in effect since 2011. The Smart Snacks in School standards, which went into effect nationally on July 1, 2014, will set guidelines for how much fat, salt and calories are present in food and drinks sold in other areas of the school such as vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores.

Nationally, 72 percent of parents favor standards for school meals. Of the 72 percent of parents who support the new standards, 50 percent strongly favor the standards. Also, 75 percent favor the guidelines extending to foods sold in school stores, vending machines and a la carte lines—the Smart Snacks in School standards.

Additionally, 75 percent of parents agree that salt should be limited. Another 91 percent of parents agree that schools should include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal, 88 percent say the same about water, and 64 percent believe that every meal should provide some sort of whole grains.

This shows that parents are “listening and hearing the evidence,” according to Dr. Stephen Cook, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at University of Rochester Medical Center and Associate Director for the Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. “They want a safe and healthy school environment for their kids, and that includes the food environment,” he says.

While support for the standards remains high across all races, political views and income levels, the percentages of parents who favor the standards did seem to vary slightly between groups:

  • 68 percent of Whites approve of school meal standards, compared to 85 percent of Hispanics and 91 percent of African-Americans.
  • 84 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Republicans favor the standards.

Support for school meal standards also was higher among those whose children eat school meals most often: 64 percent of parents whose children eat school lunch once or twice a week support the standards, 74 percent of parents whose children eat lunch three to four days a week support them, and 75 percent of parents whose children eat a school meal daily support them.

In addition to questions about their support of school food guidelines, parents were also asked broad questions about child health in the United States. 80 percent of parents are concerned with the state of children’s health, while 74 percent are specifically concerned by childhood obesity.

Concern about childhood obesity was highest in African-American parents (83 percent), followed by 76 percent of Hispanic parents and 74 percent of White parents.

“In the big picture of nutrition and health in this country, we didn’t get into this problem in just a few years. It’s been a couple of decades and there are large market forces involved. We can’t expect just a few years to yield massive results,” Dr. Cook notes. “States and communities must look at nutrition, physical activity and lifestyles in children, young adults and parents as a key component to the population they are serving and trying to keep healthy.”

For more results, or to see how your state answered specifically, you can view the entire report online here.

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