Added Sugars in School Meals and the Diets of School-Age Children
Research is limited on added sugars in school meals and children’s dietary intakes after the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommended that added sugars be limited to less than 10% of total calories. This analysis uses data from the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS) to examine levels of added sugars in: (1) school meals and (2) children’s dietary intakes at breakfast, lunch, and over 24 h on school days. SNMCS data were collected in the 2014–2015 school year after updated nutrition standards for school meals were implemented. Most schools exceeded the DGA limit for added sugars at breakfast (92%), while 69% exceeded the limit at lunch. The leading source of added sugars in school meals (both breakfasts and lunches) was flavored skim milk. More than 62% of children consumed breakfasts that exceeded the DGA limit, and almost half (47%) consumed lunches that exceeded the limit. Leading sources of added sugars in the breakfasts consumed by children were sweetened cold cereals and condiments and toppings; leading sources of added sugars in children’s lunches were flavored skim milk and cake. Over 24 h, 63% of children exceeded the DGA limit. These findings show that school meals and children’s dietary intakes are high in added sugars relative to the DGA limit and provide insights into the types of foods that should be targeted in order to decrease levels of added sugars.