Over the past four decades, the obesity rate among children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 has more than tripled.This has increased the risk of young people developing health problems such as cardiovascular disease, depression, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, sleep disorders, and high cholesterol. More than 31 million U.S. children participate in the National School Lunch Program each school day, and many students consume up to half of their daily calories at school. As a result, schools have the potential to help reverse the national childhood obesity epidemic.
In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, proposed updated nutrition standards for school meals to align them with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and current information on children’s nutrient requirements. USDA’s standards call for schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and to serve only fat-free and low-fat milk. In addition, the standards place limits on calorie and sodium levels, and eliminate foods with trans fatty acids, or trans fats. Schools were required to implement the new standards for lunches in school year, or SY, 2012-13 and for breakfasts in SY 2013-14.
As school food authorities,* or SFAs, work to implement the new meal standards, they may face challenges,including limitations in existing kitchen equipment and infrastructure, and in the training and skills of food service staff. In January 2012, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project—a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—began conducting the first national study to assess the needs of SFAs. The Kitchen Infrastructure and Training for Schools study examined challenges SFAs encountered in implementing the new meal requirements under the National School Lunch Program, and collected data on their reported needs for new equipment, infrastructure changes, and staff training.
The findings presented in this report are based on a self-administered, online survey of school food service directors or their designees (primarily food service managers) from a nationally representative sample of the administrators of public school food authorities.
* A school food authority is the local administrative unit that operates the national school breakfast and lunch programs for one or more school districts.