Children’s BMI Dropped After School Meals Became Healthier

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Feb. 13, 2023 -- The body mass index of school children dropped after the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 improved nutrition standards for school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, a new study says.

Researchers tracked the heights and weights of 14,121 children ages 5-18 from January 2005 to March 2020, said the study published in JAMA Pediatrics. BMI measures how healthy your weight is based on your height.

The study found that BMI decreased by 0.041 units per year compared to the time before the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act became active.  

Lauren Fiechtner, MD, director of nutrition at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, explained the significance of the finding in an editorial accompanying the study, The Associated Press said. She said the decline would amount to a 1-pound weight loss for a 10-year-old boy with an elevated BMI.

Recent data shows about 1 in 5 U.S. children are classified as obese. The study concluded, “The findings suggest that school meal programs represent a key opportunity for interventions to combat the childhood obesity epidemic given the high rates of program participation and the proportion of total calories consumed through school-based meals.”

Michelle Obama was a driving force behind the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which increased the quantity of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains required in school lunches.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new guidelines for school breakfasts and lunches that would lower the amount of sodium and sugar being served.

While previous studies have shown how the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act affected children’s weight in low-income families, the study published in JAMA Pediatrics is the first to show that BMI dropped across all income levels, The Associated Press said.