This issue of the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute's Research to Action examines school nutrition programs, which make a key contribution to students’ success at school and play an indispensable role in their health and development.
Research to Action - The Nutrition Policy Institute news brief

September 2018 | Vol. 2, No. 3

Support school nutrition programs

What is the issue?
Nationwide, nearly 18 percent of children live in food-insecure households — where access to healthy food is uncertain — making them at increased risk of hunger. In addition, one in three children are overweight or obese. School nutrition programs are uniquely positioned to address the health of children by providing access to healthy food before, during and after the school day and often during school vacation, as well.
Established in 1946, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the oldest and largest child nutrition program, created to “safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children.” In 2017, the NSLP served 30 million students each day, and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), another vital school nutrition program, served close to 15 million students. School supper programs and summer lunch programs also serve K-12 students. Most participants (73% of NSLP participants and 85% of SBP participants) come from low-income households and can receive up to half of their daily nutrition from school meals.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 strengthened school nutrition guidelines for the first time in 15 years, with the twin goals of combating hunger and reducing child obesity. The new standards were designed to better reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — offering more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting trans-fat, saturated fat, sodium and calorie content in school meals. Most meal standards were implemented by 2013. To ensure that all foods sold in schools promote healthy diets, the HHFKA also improved standards for foods and beverages sold in vending machines, snack bars, à la carte lines and any other place on campus. These new standards place school nutrition programs front and center in the national challenge to combat child obesity and promote children’s health.

What is the current status?
Several school nutrition improvements have faced delays under the current administration. These delays, allowing schools to serve sugary, flavored low-fat milk and loosening restrictions on whole grains and sodium limits, undo important progress made towards providing healthful school meals.
Additionally, access to school meal programs has been threatened by proposals to tighten Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility criteria, most recently suggested in Farm Bill negotiations. Currently, if a household receives SNAP benefits, their children automatically qualify for school meals. For thousands of vulnerable, low-income children, loss of SNAP benefits could jeopardize their access to this important nutritional resource.
Why does this matter?
School nutrition programs have had a long history of successfully serving the nutritional needs of children, particularly those of low-income households. In addition to reducing hunger and overweight/obesity, consumption of a healthy diet helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), with support from its contributing partners, has been a leading research organization on school nutrition. Studies from NPI have shown:
What can I do to help?
A hungry child cannot learn. Nor can children thrive in other aspects of their lives without reliable access to healthy food. For many, school meals and snacks may be the healthiest food of the day, and in some cases may be the only food of the day. To ensure that children meet their educational goals and thrive:
  • Support your school’s food and nutrition staff. They have a tough job, with limited resources. Find out how you can assist them. Let them know you are there to help.
  • Join your school's local wellness committee. Every school district is required by law to have a local school wellness policy and a committee to make sure the policy is implemented. Parents and others are welcome as members of the public. This is an excellent way to contribute your priorities and resources to your school’s nutrition mission.
  • Find out whether schools are benefiting from the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). In schools with substantial numbers of low-income students, CEP allows all students to eat free meals while relieving schools of much paperwork. When all the students eat without charge, school meal participation increases, schools receive more revenue to serve even better meals and there is no stigma to discourage kids from participating.
  • Make sure your schools are serving breakfast in the classroom or some other form of after-the-bell service. Many children miss school breakfast when it is served in the cafeteria before school starts – they can’t get there in time or they don’t want to miss playground time. Many teachers discover how quick and easy classroom breakfast is and what a good way it is to calm down and focus the kids while routine tasks (taking attendance, making announcements, collecting homework) are completed.
  • Contact the National Farm to School Network. They will help you enrich students’ understanding of how food grows and where it comes from, and their willingness to try new foods. Often farmers will visit the school or students can visit a farm, an eye-opening experience for many children.
  • Check to make sure that water fountains and water stations are in good working condition, clean and appealing, so children become used to drinking water, a zero-calorie beverage, instead of sugary drinks.
  • Support a robust CalFresh/SNAP/Food Stamp program. CalFresh helps to feed many children at home, stretches the family’s budget and enrollment in CalFresh is often the way students are signed up for free meals at school.
  • Support a robust set of child nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast. The child nutrition programs were due for reauthorization in 2015, but Congress has delayed the process. Reauthorization is the time when the school food programs are strengthened — or crippled by lowering nutrition quality requirements or cutting into eligibility for free and reduced price participation. Monitor reauthorization when it occurs and let your congressional representatives know how important the programs are for students.
  • Make sure schools are operating all available federal food programs. School lunch and breakfast are the major programs; also available are the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the Summer Food Service Program, which is important to children when school is out of session. In addition, many schools have added a component to their afternoon snack program to turn it into a supper so that students leave school nourished with what may be the last meal of their day.
School lunch and breakfast, together with the other child nutrition programs, make a key contribution to students’ success at school and play an indispensable role in their health and development. Be a champion for the school meal programs — there are so many dividends. 

Research to Action is a periodic news brief from the Nutrition Policy Institute. Please share Research to Action with colleagues who would be interested in receiving it, and please subscribe if you haven't already done so.


September 25, 2018
The Healthy Communities Study: How Community Programs and Policies Are Related to Children's Health
NCCOR Connect and Explore Webinar

In this webinar on Tuesday, Septermber 25 at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT), Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) Director Lorrene Ritchie is a featured speaker about the Healthy Communities Study. NPI staff have authored many publications that are part of the Healthy Communities Study.

September 27, 2018
From Policy to Plate: Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake Through Accessibility, Affordability, and Demand
Healthy People Law and Health Policy Webinar

Join this webinar on Thursday, September 27 at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) to learn about the impact of health laws and policies on increasing fruit and vegetable intake and making food accessible and affordable. The Nutrition Policy Institute's Pat Crawford co-authored the report on which this webinar is based.

September 29, 2018
Measuring Food Insecurity on Your Campus
#RealCollege 2018
Temple University
Philadelphia PA

Nutrition Policy Institute Assistant Researcher Suzanna Martinez will highlight key concepts in college food security research, discuss study design and assessment methods and describe best practices.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, providing critical support to low-income families while strengthening the local economy. NPI's new fact sheets detail how CalFresh benefits California's counties: 


Read the latest news from the National Drinking Water Alliance to access helpful resources on drinking water, including fact sheets, toolkits, webinars, workshops and much more. 


Berkeley Food Institute
The Farm Bill Is still in play

Food Banks at California Colleges Help Keep Students from Going Hungry

UC Berkeley News
New semester, new efforts to fight student hunger

Immigrants drop out of nutrition program fearing Trump immigration crackdown

KQED Forum
Finding the sweet spot for carb consumption

FRAC ResearchWire
Food Insecurity Among College Students

Sacramento Bee
Starving students

Davis Enterprise
Chancell-ing: Food for thought

Affordable Colleges Online
Support for College Students Experiencing Food Insecurity

CBS News
The hidden problem of homelessness on college campuses

American Society for Nutrition
Childhood obesity: Insights on risk factors and prevention

Community intervention improves physical activity in family child care homes




Crawford P, Dunning L, Kappagoda M, O’Connor JC. The Role of Law and Policy in Achieving the Healthy People 2020 Nutrition and Weight Status Goals of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake in the United States. Rockville (MD). Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP); 2018 Sept 13. [Full Text]

Lorrene Ritchie developed and, with Danielle Lee, coordinated special issue on policies, programs and best practices in early care and education settings. Childhood Obesity, Vol. 14, No. 6, 1 Sep 2018.  [Full Text]

Lee D, Gurzo K, Yoshida S, Vitale EH, Hecht K, Ritchie LD. Compliance with the New 2017 Child and Adult Care Food Program Standards for Infants and Children before Implementation. Childhood Obesity, Vol. 14, No. 6, 1 Sep 2018. DOI:  [Full Text]

Research Brief: Both Online and In-Person Nutrition Education Can Improve Health Outcomes for WIC Participants. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute. PHFE WIC. August 2018.  [Full Text]

Study Tool: Goals for Healthy Beverages in Child Care Centers and Homes. Nutrition Policy Institute. 2018.  [Full Text]

Grummon AH, Sokol RL, Hecht CA, Patel AI. Measuring beverage consumption in U.S. children and adolescents: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews 19,  pages 1017-1027, August 2018. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text]

Ritchie LD, Woodward-Lopez G, Au LE, Loria CM, Collie-Akers V, Wilson DK, Frongillo EA, Strauss WJ, Landgraf AJ, Nagaraja J, Sagatov RDF, Nicastro HL, Nebeling LC, Webb KL; Healthy Communities Study Team. Associations of community programs and policies with children's dietary intakes: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity. 2018 Jul 10. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text]

Woodward-Lopez G, Gosliner W, Au LE, Kao J, Webb KL, Sagatov RD, Strauss WJ, Landgraf AJ, Nagaraja J, Wilson DK, Nicastro HL, Nebeling LC, Schultz JA, Ritchie LD; On behalf of the Healthy Communities Study Team. Community characteristics modify the relationship between obesity prevention efforts and dietary intake in children: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity, 10 July 2018. 
DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text]

Martinez S, Frongillo EA, Leung C, Ritchie L. No food for thought: Food insecurity is related to poor mental health and lower academic performance among students in California’s public university system. Journal of Health Psychology, June 25, 2018. DOI: [Full Text]

Nazmi A, Martinez S, Byrd A, Robinson D, Bianco S, Maguire J, Crutchfield RM, Condron K, Ritchie L. A systematic review of food insecurity among US students in higher education. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 22 Jun 2018. DOI:  [Abstract]

Pate RR, Frongillo EA, McIver KL, Colabianchi N, Wilson DK, Collie-Akers VL, Schultz JA, Reis J, Madsen K, Woodward-Lopez G, Berrigan D, Landgraf A, Nagaraja J, Strauss WJ; Healthy Communities Study Research Group. Associations between community programmes and policies and children's physical activity: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity. 2018 Jun 13. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text

Webb KL, Hewawitharana SC, Au LE, Collie-Akers V, Strauss WJ, Landgraf AJ, Nagaraja J, Wilson DK, Sagatov R, Kao J, Loria CM, Fawcett SB, Ritchie LD; Healthy Communities Study Team. Objectives of community policies and programs associated with more healthful dietary intakes among children: findings from the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity. 2018 Jun 19. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text

Schultz JA, Collie-Akers VL, Fawcett SB, Strauss WJ, Nagaraja J, Landgraf AJ, McIver KL, Weber SA, Arteaga SS, Nebeling LC, Rauzon SM; Healthy Communities Study Team. Association between community characteristics and implementation of community programmes and policies addressing childhood obesity: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity. 2018 Jun 19. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text]

Collie-Akers VL, Schultz JA, Fawcett SB, Landry S, Obermeier S, Frongillo EA, Forthofer M, Weinstein N, Weber SA, Logan A, Arteaga SS, Nebeling L, Au LE; Healthy Communities Study Team. Measuring the intensity of community programs and policies for preventing childhood obesity in a diverse sample of US communities: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity. 2018 Jun 14. DOI:  [Abstract]  [Full Text]

Bates CR, Bohnert AM, Gerstein DE. Green Schoolyards in Low-Income Urban Neighborhoods: Natural Spaces for Positive Youth Development Outcomes. Frontiers in Psychology, May 25, 2018. DOI:
[Full Text]

Strauss WJ, Nagaraja J, Landgraf AJ, Arteaga SS, Fawcett SB, Ritchie LD, John LV, Gregoriou M, Frongillo EA, Loria CM, Weber SA, Collie-Akers VL, McIver KL, Schultz J, Sagatov RDF, Leifer ES, Webb K, Pate RR, and on behalf of the Healthy Communities Study Team. The longitudinal relationship between community programmes and policies to prevent childhood obesity and BMI in children: the Healthy Communities Study. Pediatric Obesity, 2018 Feb 28, DOI: [Epub ahead of print].  [Abstract]

For a complete list of NPI publications, please visit

The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) conducts research on the impact of nutrition and physical activity on public health. NPI translates research findings into recommendations to provide a basis for effective decision-making, particularly related to the federal nutrition assistance programs.

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