(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)
MONDAY, June 30, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- School cafeteria staples such as Sloppy Joes, french fries and macaroni and cheese will soon be relegated to the culinary history books in New York City schools.
And not a moment too soon, new research says.
A study by University of Minnesota researchers found school children who have access to high-fat, low-nutrition foods at school will consume more unhealthy meals overall than children who have access to healthier options.
These intuitive results underscore the need for an overhaul of school cafeteria menus and vending machine snack options, which are out of step with federal nutrition guidelines, the researchers say.
They investigated the eating habits of 598 seventh graders in 16 Minnesota schools by asking them what they had eaten in the last 24 hours. The answers revealed that students who had access to junk food at lunchtime a la carte programs ate fewer fruits and vegetables, more junk food at school and more total fat and fewer fruits and vegetables overall.
"The environmental availability of these foods in schools is what influences that relationship," says study author Martha Y. Kubik, an associate education specialist at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.
The New York City school system, one of the nation's largest, recently slashed the fat and calorie content of school lunches and is implementing a comprehensive renovation of school menus.
Cafeteria classics such as Salisbury steak and meatloaf will soon make way for healthful options such as fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and whole wheat breads, says Kevin Ortiz, New York City Department of Education spokesman.
"Childhood obesity is a big problem and we feel that we can play a vital role in addressing it," Ortiz says.
New York City schools are also planning to eliminate vending machines that sell nutrition-poor snack options such as soda, candy and potato chips. Such a move may meet resistance, however, because many public schools rely on vending machine revenues to subsidize after-school programs and sports.
"We're trying to come up with a central contract with one particular food vendor that will distribute only foods that meet our nutritional guidelines," Ortiz says.
San Francisco schools are also pioneering a new city-wide healthy food program and moving to ban soda machines from school hallways. Aptos Middle School, for example, has already eliminated unhealthy lunchtime staples and replaced them with alternatives such as sushi and fruit juice.
"We used to see kids walking around with a tray of french fries and a 20-ounce soda for lunch and now you see those same kids with a tray of chicken and rice or sushi," says Carol Gannan, a parent advocate for healthy foods in city schools. "There really hasn't been much outcry from the students."
Both cities are part of a larger national movement to combat the spread of childhood obesity by inculcating healthy eating habits at an early age.
For more information on New York City's lunch program, visit the Division of Food Services and Transportation. To learn more about America's childhood obesity epidemic, visit the U.S. Surgeon General's office.