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Schools Can Set Tone for Healthy Eating

THURSDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Offering students healthier food choices at school helps improve their eating habits, a new study suggests.

The research included 55 middle schools in Michigan with mostly low-income students. Some of the schools made only limited changes to their nutrition policies and practices, while others introduced major changes.

Some of the new programs included raising nutrition standards for snacks and beverages, offering taste tests of healthy foods and beverages to students, marketing healthy foods in school, and removing ads for unhealthy foods.

In schools that introduced three or more new nutrition practices and policies, students ate 26 percent more fruits, 14 percent more vegetables and 30 percent more whole grains. They also increased their consumption of fiber, calcium and vitamins A and C, according to the study, which was published online Nov. 11 in the journal Childhood Obesity.

The findings suggest that new federal nutrition standards for schools that are scheduled to take effect during the 2014-'15 school year may help improve students' eating habits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture standards will set limits on calories, salt, sugar and fat in foods and beverages, and promote snack foods with more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables.

"When healthy food options are offered, students will select them, eat them and improve their diet," study author Katherine Alaimo, an associate professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University, said in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation news release.

The foundation funded the study through its Healthy Eating Research program.

Contributing study author Shannon Carney Oleksyk, a registered dietitian and healthy living adviser for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's social mission, added: "Creating school environments where the healthy choice is the easy choice allows students to practice lessons learned in the classroom and form healthy habits at an early age, laying a foundation for a healthy future."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about school nutrition for children and teens.

SOURCE: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, news release, Nov. 11, 2013