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Most Schools did not Meet USDA Nutrition Standards Before 2013

Update Date: Nov 18, 2014 11:21 AM EST

Prior to 2013, the majority of schools did not provide lunches that met the nutrition standards set by the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a new study found. According to the data, less than two percent of middle or high schools provided USDA-healthy meals.

"By the time USDA standards get fully implemented, it will be really dramatic, there will be a very, very different nutritional environment in these schools," said lead author Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, a research associate at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, reported by FOX News.

For this study, the researchers examined data gathered by three nationally representative surveys, which were conducted from 2007 to 2012. The surveys reached 22,716 eighth-graders from 313 schools and 30,596 10th and 12th graders from 511 schools.

In 2012, the USDA mandated all schools that were a part of the National School Lunch Program to provide meals that followed federal guidelines on the acceptable levels of fat, sodium, sugar and calories. Data included students' height and weight as well as their access to certain foods and beverage.

The researcher assessed the lunches based on four USDA standards, which were no sugar-sweetened drinks, no whole or two percent milk, no candy or full-fat snacks and no French fries. Based from these guidelines, the team discovered that about one-third of the schools did not meet any of the five standards and less than two percent did.

"The standards that we're looking at come nowhere near the full USDA requirements," Terry-McElrath told Reuters Health. "It is not an easy thing to make such a large change in the nation's school nutrition environment. Our research shows that this will be a very significant change."

The researchers reported that overall, the five standards were not linked to whether or not students reported being overweight or obese. However, in high schools where fruits and vegetables were available, higher fat milk was inaccessible and the lunches met three or more of the standards, students were 10 percent less likely to report being overweight or obese.

"Schools are just one place where children make food choices, eat and learn about what, how and why to eat," Leslie A. Lytle of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, commented. "It will take change at many levels before we see an impact on kids' health."

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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