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Improving School Lunch Programs

March 13, 2014

schoollunchA new study by Harvard University suggests that recent changes to the federal school lunch program are having a measurable impact, increasing children’s consumption of fruits by 23 percent and vegetables by 16.2 percent in the four low-income urban schools that were the focus of the study. The study’s lead author, Juliana Cohen, issued a statement declaring, “There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards. We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts.”

The new program, which began as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, has faced a number of challenges. Republican lawmakers have used the program as an example of government overreach. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that the number of students paying full price for lunch declined by about 1.2 million students (a 3.7 percent decline) as the program was instituted,  likely as a result of smaller portion sizes and increased quantities of fruits and vegetables served.

The USDA has already responded to some criticisms of the program, relaxing caps on grains and meats and permitting greater flexibility in school lunch programs. The new study will likely do little to quell the growing chorus of debate over the federal school lunch program, which has become a lightning rod for broader debates over the proper role of government in the United States. Nevertheless, the news that children are consuming more fruits and vegetables (and correspondingly less processed foods) should be welcomed.

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