Yale Study: Connecticut Schools’ Food Landscape Healthier

Students and teachers in Connecticut’s public schools have fewer unhealthy snack food options in their cafeterias, according to a study by Yale researchers just published in the Journal of School Health.

Researchers from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that on average, all Connecticut school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program reduced the availability of unhealthy snack foods during the 2006-2007 school year, when the study was conducted. Districts participating in Connecticut’s Healthy Food Certification, which was first implemented that year, showed a significantly greater reduction of unhealthy competitive foods than districts that did not participate.

Connecticut’s voluntary Healthy Food Certification provides monetary incentives to school districts that choose to implement state nutrition standards for all foods sold to students outside reimbursable school meals.

In the study, food service directors from all 151 Connecticut school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program were surveyed about the availability of competitive foods before and after the 2006-2007 implementation of Healthy Food Certification. Food categories were coded as healthy or unhealthy based on whether they met the Connecticut Nutrition Standards. Changes in National School Lunch Program participation and availability of unhealthy competitive foods in elementary, middle, and high schools were compared pre- and post-Healthy Food Certification across 74 participating districts, versus the 77 districts that did not participate in Healthy Food Certification.

“Students and their parents have a right to school environments free from the sale of junk food,” stated the study’s lead author, Michael Long, M.P.H. “By combining a voluntary program with a financial incentive to school districts, Connecticut has become a national leader in improving the nutrition quality of school food.”

Currently, almost 68 percent of Connecticut’s eligible schools participate in Healthy Food Certification. Susan Fiore, nutrition education coordinator at the Connecticut State Department of Education, indicates that statewide participation in Healthy Food Certification has increased by almost 34 percent since it was first implemented in 2006. “This trend indicates that schools recognize the importance of consistently providing healthy foods throughout the entire school environment,” said Fiore. “The financial incentive helps districts offer these healthier choices while maintaining a financially self-sufficient school food service program.”

In addition to the greater reduction in unhealthy competitive foods for HFC districts, there was a significant increase in participation in the NSLP from 2005-2006 to 2006-2007 across the state. The HFC districts experienced an additional increase in paid middle school participation, suggesting that students were more likely to buy lunch when the unhealthy snacks were no longer available.

This research was supported by a grant from the Healthy Eating Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Media Contact

Rebecca Oren: rebecca.oren@yale.edu, 203-436-2513