Kids' Diets Worsen as They Move Up in School
Children Get Less Milk, Fruits, Vegetables in Middle School
April 13, 2004 -- Moving from elementary to middle school may
be a turning point in children's diet as well as their education. A new study
shows children get fewer fruits and vegetables and more sweetened drinks and
french fries as they move up in school.
Researchers say access to snack bars and stores in middle
school that offer plenty of high-fat, high-calorie foods and fewer nutritious
items may be to blame for busting kids' diets.
The study showed that after fourth graders moved up to fifth
grade, they ate about a third fewer servings of fruit, non-fried vegetables,
and milk than they did in elementary schools. At the same time, the number of
servings of high-fat vegetables, such as french fries, and sweetened drinks
increased by two-thirds.
Meals at School Worsen With Age
In the study, researchers followed two groups of Texas
schoolchildren over two years and asked them to report what they ate for lunch
and where the food came from.
The first group of fourth graders received lunches from the
National School Lunch Program, which offers two servings of fruits and
vegetables and eight ounces of milk per day. As they moved into middle school
and had a greater number of lunch options, researchers found that the number of
servings of fruits, regular (non-fried) vegetables, and milk decreased by 33%,
42%, and 35%, respectively.
Meanwhile, the number of servings of high-fat (fried)
vegetables and sweetened beverages increased by 68% and 62%.
A similar but less dramatic pattern was found among the second
group of fifth graders who were followed as they moved into sixth grade. These
students increased their consumption of high-fat vegetables by 30% and ate 10%
fewer regular vegetables.
Surprisingly, researchers say they found the sixth graders
drank slightly more milk and slightly less sweetened drinks than they did in
fifth grade. But they say this might be explained by the fact that the school's
snack bar began offering bottled water during the second year of the study.
Researchers say the snack bar may play an important role in
determining the nutritional quality of the children's lunches.
"Approximately 35% to 40% of students reported eating snack
bar meals exclusively over the 2 years," write researcher Karen Weber
Cullen, DrPH, RD, of the Baylor College of Medicine, and colleagues in the
March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
"Those students consumed fewer fruits, regular vegetables
and milk and consumed greater amounts of sweetened beverages and high-fat
vegetables than what they reported in previous years, when they only received
lunch program meals," they write.