Poll: Majority of Americans Support Healthy School Meal Program


A national poll released this week by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation shows that a majority of Americans are supportive of offering healthier meals for schoolchildren – and this means meals with more fruits and vegetables and fewer foods high in calories and sodium, says Ron Nixon of The New York Times.

In 2010, legislation was signed by President Obama which required schools to improve their nutritional standards for the first time in 15 years. The law, close to First Lady Michelle Obama’s heart, became part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

In the poll, two-thirds of Americans said that food served in public school cafeterias has good or excellent nutritional quality, a number much higher than the 26% who said the same in a 2010 poll before the standards were put in place. Also, 93% of respondents believe that it is very important or somewhat important to serve nutritious meals in schools so that children’s health is supported and their capacity to learn is optimum.

However, the reauthorization of the law has been held up in Congress because, say opponents, it has created financial burdens for some schools, partly because fresh produce can be more expensive than other, less nutritious fare. The law will expire Sept. 30, and there are bills currently in Congress to supply waivers on some of the nutritional standards for certain products to specific school districts. Agriculture appropriations bills in the House and Senate have provisions to temporarily halt the mandate that reduces sodium levels until studies of the benefit of sodium reduction for children has been established.

Two issues brought up by opponents of the law are the food waste based on the observation that children are not eating the healthier meals and a decline in participation in school lunch programs. The School Nutrition Association, a cafeteria workers organization, has lobbied to have the new standards relaxed. This group is funded in part by food companies.

Approximately 90% of Americans support more government spending on farm-to-school programs. The same amount of support is in place for encouraging children to drink more water rather than sugary drinks. La June Montgomery Tabron, President and Chief Executive of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, said:

“Good hydration improves cognitive function, and recommending water as the beverage of choice can help in the fight against childhood obesity.”

The survey was conducted by LJR Custom Strategies of 1,200 randomly selected adults across the U.S. using landline or mobile phones from May 17-27, 2015. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.%.

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) was founded in 1930 by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg and is one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the US. WKKF works with communities to help break the cycle of poverty by removing barriers based on race or income that hold back children so they can realize their full potential in school, work, and life.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s blog, in a post written by Katie Wilson, Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, school nutrition professionals will soon be serving healthy school meals to over 30 million students across the nation. She says that more than 96% of schools are meeting the updated meal standards and are serving healthy meals. In order to serve high-poverty communities, schools and districts nationwide have implemented the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) and the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.

Cathy Rainone, reporting for KNBC-TV Los Angeles, writes that Congress is having a food fight. Republicans think the changes to the 2010 legislation are an executive overreach and a one-size-fits-all solution. Proponents say if the regulations are relaxed, children will be set up for a lifetime of poor health.

But some groups think there is still not enough being done to ensure children’s healthy eating will continue and programs will increase. Jim Weill, President of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), wants a bill that would allow nonprofits and public agencies to more easily serve summer meals with federal dollars. He wants to see improved nutrition standards in child care centers and family child care homes by securing federal funding in the reauthorization.

Another poll released by the The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association found that a majority of parents, across racial and political lines, support the standards.