New standards push Massachusetts toward healthier school foods

New Massachusetts standards that ban the sale of unhealthy snacks and beverages—the kind often sold in vending machines—appear to be working, according to a new study co-authored by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Along with colleagues from at Northeastern, Brandeis, and Boston Universities, the researchers looked at 74 middle and high schools in 37 school districts around the state to see how well they were complying with 2012 standards requiring that “competitive” foods sold outside of the National School Lunch Program—in vending machines, à la carte cafeteria lines, or school stores, thus “competing” with the sale of school meals—be healthier.

They found that, in the first year after the new standards were implemented, there was a dramatic increase in foods and beverages sold that were consistent with the Massachusetts standards. In 2012, a year before the standards were put into place, about 13% of the competitive foods and 28%-46% of the competitive beverages sold were compliant with the proposed future standards. In 2013, those percentages had leapt to 54%-69% for food and to 80%-87% for beverages.

The paper was part of the research team’s NOURISH (Nutrition Opportunities to Understand Reforms Involving Student Health) study. Senior author was Eric Rimm, professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition. Juliana Cohen, research assistant in the Department of Nutrition, was also a co-author.

Read a WBUR article: Report: Ban On Junk Food In Mass. Schools Is Working

Read the study abstract: Implementation of Competitive Food and Beverage Standards in a Sample of Massachusetts Schools: The NOURISH Study (Nutrition Opportunities to Understand Reforms Involving Student Health)

Learn more

New school meal standards significantly increase fruit, vegetable consumption (Harvard Chan School release)

School Meals, Competitive Foods, and the School Food Environment (Obesity Prevention Source)