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CDC: Food Getting Healthier at Schools

Report Shows Less Junk Food Now Available, but Improvements Still Needed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

School Health

Oct. 19, 2007 -- U.S. schools have cut back on sales of high-fat and high-sugar foods to students since 2000, though many continue to allow unhealthy items during the school day, concludes a government report released Friday.

The study shows that schools across the country are allowing less junk food in vending machines, school stores, and a la carte counters. More schools have also put healthier school lunch practices into place.

But overall results were mixed, say researchers from the CDC, which released the study. The report also shows that junk food and sugary drinks remain widespread in U.S. schools and that few schools provide daily physical education classes.

The report shows that the percentage of schools selling cookies, chips, and other junk food to kids dropped between 2000 and 2006. Bottled water sales increased, as did policies banning smoking at school events.

"These are meaningful changes in large numbers of schools," says Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's adolescent and school health division.

For example, the report shows that the percentage of schools selling french fries dropped by half -- to 19% by 2006.

"That means that approximately 25,000 schools have stopped serving potatoes," Wechsler says.

Fewer High-Sugar Drinks

Schools are also selling fewer high-sugar, high-calorie drinks than they did in 2000. Still, high-sugar drinks remained available in more than three-quarters of high schools, half of middle schools, and more than one in six elementary schools, the report shows.

"The overall picture of what food and beverages are available in schools remains troubling," Wechsler says.

Congress is debating new regulations that would tighten health standards for school lunches and restrict school vending machines to selling healthier snacks to kids.

Sarah Jerome, president of the American Association of School Administrators, a group representing school superintendents, says the organization has no official position on the legislation.

But she says that "the urgings of law" could help speed up progress toward healthier food in U.S. schools.

More school districts now have rules requiring physical education for students, but many do not teach it regularly to all kids, the report states. More than one-fifth of all schools still don't require all students to take physical education.

The report also shows that 68% of elementary schools have daily recess for all students.

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