In 2012 Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt ground-breaking nutrition standards in its public schools with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy growth and development. According to a new study led by Northeastern University in Boston, the Bay State has done an exemplary job of demonstrating how quickly others can adapt to health-driven initiatives.
The NOURISH Study (Nutrition Opportunities to Understand Reforms Involving Student Health) included nearly 75 schools in 37 districts across the state. Though the new standards have only been in effect for about a year, researchers noted significant improvements already in regulating unhealthy food and drink items. Compliance rates for the new standards increased from 13% to 69% in middle schools and from 28% to 80% in high schools.
Artificial sweeteners, white bread, and trans fats are among those items banned altogether in Massachusetts schools (fryolators are now prohibited), and additional restrictions have been placed on sodium, fat and sugar content. Perhaps most importantly, the new standards apply to so-called competitive foods—those foods and beverages sold in vending machines and school stores, or offered as à la carte items in lunchrooms.
In 2014 similar requirements went into effect for all U.S. schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (under the “Smart Snacks in School” regulation), but those requirements have been met with considerable resistance. Authors of this study hope their findings—published online this month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—will help institutions across the country see how easy it can be to embrace healthier standards for children and teens.