Adolescent Participants in the School Lunch Program Consume More Nutritious Lunches but Their 24-Hour Diets are Similar to Nonparticipants
Meals offered through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) give students access to nutritious foods and have been found to make positive contributions to their diets. Consuming a healthy diet during adolescence is important to ensure that increased requirements for energy and key nutrients are met and to decrease the risk of chronic diseases. This analysis examined whether adolescent NSLP participants consumed more nutritious foods at lunch and over 24 hours than adolescents who ate lunch from home or other places.
This analysis used 24-hour dietary recalls for adolescents ages 10–19 (n = 1,311) from the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study. The nutritional quality of adolescents’ diets was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2010, where higher scores indicate better conformance with the Dietary Guidelines. HEI-2010 scores for NSLP participants and nonparticipants were compared for lunch and 24-hour intakes.
Lunches consumed by NSLP participants received significantly higher total HEI-2010 scores than lunches consumed by nonparticipants, and significantly higher scores for the dairy, whole grains, refined grains, and empty calories components of the HEI-2010. Over 24 hours, differences in total scores were not significant, but participants continued to receive higher scores for dairy and whole grains.
Adolescents who participated in the NSLP consumed higher quality lunches than nonparticipants who consumed lunches from home or other places. However, adolescents’ 24-hour diets were similar regardless of NSLP participation, suggesting that foods participants consumed the rest of the day negatively influenced the quality of their diets.