Some of the kids got free or discounted NSLP lunches; some purchased food at school at market rates; and some got their lunches from home or elsewhere.
The investigators found that in states where USDA nutritional standards were exceeded, just about 21 percent of the NSLP children were found to be obese, compared with a little more than 17 percent of non-NSLP children.
However, that spread was much wider in states serving at-standard meals, with 26 percent of NSLP kids deemed obese compared with just under 14 percent of non-NSLP students. Similarly, BMI gaps were also greater in states where minimum standard meals were offered.
What's more, the researchers found that students consuming healthier meals were not more likely to seek other sources (such as vending machines or fast-food establishments) for less nutritional sweet or salty foods and/or sugary drinks.
That said, Taber said that going forward there is reason to be optimistic, given that states are now in the process of updating the NSLP laws that had been place when the study was conducted to more closely match updated USDA standards. The newer standards place a greater emphasis on the importance of preparing meals that include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and skim milk, while cutting back on trans fats.
"What this means is that what had been above-standard during our study will now be standard," he noted. "So, essentially those states that had been providing meals that exceeded previous USDA standards were ahead of the curve. And they saw benefits as a result, as opposed to those states that only met outdated minimums, and therefore missed an opportunity to lower obesity risk."
In an accompanying editorial, Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University in New York City, said the findings are important because they highlight the government's key role in "leveling the playing field," so that
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