WASHINGTON—Eighty-one percent of parents in Pennsylvania support the healthy school meal standards in effect nationwide, according to a poll released today by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. Across the state and regardless of political party, most adults surveyed, including parents, backed the National School Lunch Program’s enhanced nutritional guidelines, now in their third year, as well as federal rules implemented in 2014 that regulate food and drinks sold in school vending machines, at snack bars, and on a la carte menus.
Polling was conducted among a representative sample of registered voters in Pennsylvania that included an oversampling of parents with children in public schools. The survey found that 98 percent of parents and 96 percent of voters think serving nutritious foods in schools is important to "ensure that children are prepared to learn and do their best."
The survey also asked whether certain other changes would improve school meals. About three-quarters of parents and voters in Pennsylvania say that meals would be substantially better if schools offered a greater variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
"Most Pennsylvania schools are serving the healthier meals now required, and this poll shows that parents want that to continue," said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "It’s encouraging that parents and voters see the benefits of good nutrition for children’s success and of the important role schools play in providing healthy food."
A study released in March by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows that students are eating more nutritious school foods and discarding less of their lunches under the healthier standards. Specifically, kids ate 13 percent more of their entrees and nearly 20 percent more of their vegetables in 2014 than in 2012, before national standards were updated. While kids on average continued to finish about three-quarters of each fruit serving, the share of students selecting fruit with lunch rose 12 percent.
Pennsylvania districts participating in national school meal programs served more than 230 million breakfasts and lunches during the 2013-14 school year, resulting in over $420 million in federal reimbursements through the national school breakfast and lunch programs. Lunches served in 83 percent of districts statewide met the healthier requirements as of December 2014.
The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project provides nonpartisan analysis and evidence-based recommendations on policies that affect the safety and healthfulness of school foods. The project is a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Learn more at healthyschoolfoodsnow.org.
The statewide poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates. Data were collected via landline and cellular telephone surveys Feb. 19-23 among 800 registered voters, including 216 parents or guardians of children in K-12 public or charter schools. The margin of error on the sample of 800 is plus or minus 3.46 percent, and the margin of error on the sample of 216 is plus or minus 6.7 percent.