Policy Factsheet

Compliance with Nutrition Standards for School Lunch Programs

Reasons for Policy

  • During the past 30 years childhood obesity rates have more than tripled and are disproportionately prevalent in low-income and ethnic minority children.[1,2]
  • The school environment has the broad potential to impact students’ food choices and dietary quality, yet many school lunches do not meet nutrition standards.[3,4]

Community Groups

  • Local Government
  • School District

Policy Components

  • Nutrition standards for menu planning among school meal programs or at other meals/snacks sold in school environment consistent with the National Dietary Guidelines, CDC guidelines for school health program to promote lifelong healthy eating, or 5-A-Day program
  • Implementation and compliance with nutrition guidelines in school lunch program
  • Increased availability of fruit and vegetables and providing more lower fat school meals and snacks

Desired Outcomes

  • Improve the school food environment
  • Improve student dietary intake
  • Reduce rates of overweight and obesity in students

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, school food and nutrition guidelines can achieve:

  • Increased fruit and vegetable availability, with increases ranging from +0.28 servings/day to +0.48 servings/day6
  • Significant decreases in total fat, with increases ranging from -2.0% to -10.9% of energy6
  • Significant decreases in saturated fat intake, with increases ranging from -0.9% to -5.2% of energy6
  • Positive impact on fruit and vegetable intake, with increases ranging from +0.30 to +0.37 servings/day6
  • Significant decrease in total and saturated fat on the school menus (magnitude of effect unknown)6

There is insufficient scientific evidence available to determine impacts on body mass index (BMI).

Community Examples

Links to Policy Examples


  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2003. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003.  

  2. Kubik, MY, Lytle, LA, Hannan, PJ, Perry, CL, & Story, M (2003). The association of the school food environment with dietary behaviors of young adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1168-1173.  

  3. Kumanyika, S & Grier, S (2006). Targeting interventions for ethnic minority and low-income populations. Childhood Obesity, 16(1), 187-207.  

  4. Levi, J, Turst for America’s Health, et. al. (2009). F as in fat: How obesity policies are failing in America. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.rwjf.org/files/research/20090701tfahfasinfat.pdf  

  5. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.

  6. Jaime, PC & Lock, K (2009). Do school based food and nutrition policies improve diet and reduce obesity? Preventive Medicine, 48(2009), 45-53.