According to a recently released survey, children are eating more fruit at school thanks to the recent changes to government-subsidized school lunches, and are even throwing less food away.
The study, which appeared in the journal Childhood Obesity, discovered that from 2012, when the changes first went into effect through last year, the number of students who chose fruit for their school lunch rose from 54% to 66%.
In addition, the study found that children are throwing less food away from their school lunches than they had been prior to the introduction of the new guidelines. Before the new guidelines, students ate 71% of their lunches, not including fruit. As of last year, that percentage had reached 84%.
Critics of the nutritional guidelines argued that children were throwing away their lunches because they were being forced to choose meals that, although more nutritious, were less desirable, writes Ron Nixon for The New York Times.
"This research adds to evidence that the updated nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program can succeed in helping students eat healthier," said Marlene B. Schwartz, the study's lead author and the director of the Rudd Center.
This is one of the first in-depth studies concerning the school lunch program since Congress introduced the new regulations in 2010 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. They were implemented in schools in the 2012-13 school year.
In order to complete the study, researchers analyzed the food selection of students from 12 middle schools over three years, paying attention to which foods were consumed and which were thrown away. Researchers photographed and weighed individual items on each tray in order to determine their results. The study began in the spring of 2012 prior to the implementation of the standards and went through spring 2014.
The School Nutrition Association believes the study did not use enough schools to reach a conclusion on the subject. Partially backed by major food companies, the group feels the new standards introduced food waste while simultaneously increasing costs.
"We have lots of concerns about this study because, among other things, it only collected data on one day each year at these schools," said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the association. "And of course you're going to see an increase in students getting fruit. Under the new rules, they have to take a fruit when they come through the lunch line."
School lunch regulations have also faced criticism from a number of Republican lawmakers and school officials who argue that the new meal options are not appetizing to children and are increasing costs for schools, causing participation in the program to decrease.
While the study did find that school participation is on the decline, it had actually started before the introduction of the new standards.