Disparities in the Healthfulness of School Food Environments and the Nutritional Quality of School Lunches

Publisher: Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 8
Aug 08, 2020
Authors
Sarah Bardin, Liana Washburn, and Elizabeth Gearan
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), a public law in the United States passed in 2010, sought to improve the healthfulness of the school food environment by requiring updated nutrition standards for school meals and competitive foods. Studies conducted since the passage of the HHFKA indicate improvements in the food environment overall, but few studies have examined whether these improvements varied by the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic composition of students in schools. To better understand the extent of disparities in the school food environment after HHFKA, this paper examined differences in the healthfulness of school food environments and the nutritional quality of school lunches by the school poverty level and racial/ethnic composition of students using data from the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study. Results from chi-square analyses showed lower proportions of high poverty, majority black, and majority Hispanic schools had access to competitive foods, while higher proportions of these schools had a school wellness policy in addition to a district wellness policy. The overall nutritional quality of school lunches, as measured by total Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2010 scores, did not vary significantly across school types, although some HEI component scores did. From these findings, we concluded that there were disparities in the school food environment based on the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic composition of students in schools, but no significant disparities in the overall nutritional quality of school lunches were found.
Senior Staff

Liz Gearan
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