ERIC Identifier: ED369580
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early
Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Nutrition Programs for Children. ERIC Digest.
Because research has confirmed a link between nutrition and children's
cognitive development, cognitive performance, and ability to concentrate,
preschool and school-age children need to receive proper and adequate nutrition.
Despite recognition of the importance of good nutrition, however, many children
in America are poorly nourished. This digest reviews programs designed to
address this problem and suggests ways to improve child nutrition and school
FEDERAL PROGRAMS ADMINISTERED BY THE USDA FOOD AND NUTRITION
Among programs administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the SPECIAL
SUPPLEMENTAL FOOD PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)
provides food and nutrition education to eligible women, and children up to
age five. A report by the General Accounting Office (1992) estimated that, among
those participating in the program, WIC reduced the rate of low weight births by
25% and very low weight births by 44%. Data from the Centers for Disease Control
suggest that WIC appears to have contributed to a two-thirds decline in
childhood anemia over a ten-year period.
The CHILD AND ADULT CARE FOOD PROGRAM (CACFP) is designed to assure
nutritious meals for children to age 12, the elderly, and some children with
disabilities. Eligible child care centers and homes may receive funds for two
meals and one snack per participant per day. Children who attend participating
centers receive meals at full price, reduced price, or free depending on their
family income. A USDA study found that CACFP provided meals and snacks that were
significantly better in nutritional quality than those served in
The NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM (NSLP) and SCHOOL BREAKFAST Program (SBP)
were created to serve nutritious school lunches and breakfasts. The household
income of children at participating schools determines whether they receive
full- or reduced-cost or free meals. In 1992, almost 93,000 schools offered
NSLP; about half that number offered SBP. Approximately half of school lunches
and 90% of school breakfasts are served free or at reduced price.
One study (Meyers et al., 1991) examined the impact of the SBP among third
through sixth graders in the Lawrence, Massachusetts public schools. The study
found that participation in the SBP contributed positively to scores on a test
of basic skills and reduced tardiness and absenteeism among participating
children. The SUMMER FOOD SERVICE PROGRAM FOR CHILDREN (SFSPC) provides
nutritious meals to children from low-income families while school is not in
session. The program serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, and follows the
same meal pattern as the NSLP and SBP.
The NUTRITION EDUCATION AND TRAINING (NET) Program provides nutrition
education to teachers and school food service personnel so they can, in turn,
teach children about good nutrition. NET funds can be used to develop classes on
food, diet, and health; teach cafeteria workers to prepare more nutritious
meals; and purchase instructional materials. A USDA study found that the NET
program led to increased levels of nutritional knowledge and positively affected
food preferences in children.
OTHER FEDERAL PROGRAMS
The USDA's FOOD STAMP PROGRAM (FSP)
is the nation's most important food assistance program. Eligibility requirements
are uniform nationwide. Among households that receive food stamps, 92% have
gross incomes below the poverty level. Families with children receive 83% of all
FSP benefits, and children constitute about half of all individuals on food
stamps (Greenstein, 1992). FSP participation has been found to improve nutrition
for low-income households. According to the USDA, nutrients in home food
supplies are increased 20 to 40% by food stamps.
The NATIONAL FOOD SERVICE MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE (NFSMI) was authorized by
Congress and established in 1990. The institute is located at the University of
Mississippi and serves as a resource center for child nutrition programs.
The EXPANDED FOOD AND NUTRITION EDUCATION PROGRAM (EFNEP), which was
established in 1968, is administered by the Extension Service of the USDA and is
conducted through the Cooperative Extension System at land-grant universities in
every state and territory. Extension professionals train paraprofessionals and
volunteers who teach food and nutrition information and skills to families and
youth with limited resources. EFNEP's objectives are to assist these families
and youth in acquiring the knowledge, skills, and changed behavior necessary for
nutritionally sound diets (USDA, 1994).
OTHER NATIONAL INITIATIVES
The American School Food Service
Association developed the HEALTHY E.D.G.E. program, which produced a video tape
and "how-to" manual that highlight cost-effective ways of incorporating U.S.
Dietary Guidelines in school food service, and which emphasize school-community
partnerships to promote activities that improve student nutrition. HEALTHY
E.D.G.E. also produces manuals that discuss topics related to nutrition.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has produced a set of nutrition education
curricula for the primary, intermediate, and secondary level. These curricula
link classroom materials for teachers, such as outlines and visual aids, with
materials for food service personnel, such as manuals on developing recipes
The National Dairy Council undertakes various efforts to support nutrition
education among citizens. These efforts include nutrition education programs for
educators and nutrition programs and materials for health professionals. The
Council also produces curriculum materials for use in preschools and the
IMPROVING PROGRAM PARTICIPATION RATES
In order to increase
children's participation in nutrition programs, the National Health/Education
Consortium (NHEC) suggests that:
* SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL PERSONNEL encourage children's participation in child
* DIETITIANS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS help schools develop materials for
parents and students concerning nutrition and school meal programs; and
* PARENTS encourage their children to participate in meal programs; and work
with schools to provide environments that promote healthful eating habits.
The NHEC believes that administrative requirements prevent many eligible
schools from participating in child nutrition programs. Two practices that would
reduce administrative burdens are: (1) a universal school meal program,
according to which all students, regardless of household income, would be
allowed to receive meals without charge, thus eliminating the need for
determining children's eligibility; and (2) direct certification, according to
which schools could certify children for free or reduced-cost meals by obtaining
information directly from local Food Stamp or Aid to Families with Dependent
IMPROVING NUTRITIONAL STANDARDS
Many nutritionists and
others who are concerned about children's nutrition suggest that school meals
should be higher in fiber and lower in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar; and
should average 30% of calories from fat. A USDA (1992a) study found that NSLP
meals averaged approximately 38% of calories from fat. An informal study of 612
elementary school menus confirmed the popularity of high-fat foods in school
meals (USDA, 1992b).
In order to further improve the nutrition of children in school, the NHEC
* SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL PERSONNEL remove food vending machines from schools;
allow children sufficient time to eat breakfast and lunch; and make the school
cafeteria an attractive and inviting place;
* DIETITIANS AND PARENTS encourage school officials to remove foods of low
nutritional value from school vending machines; and urge elected officials to
eliminate the whole milk requirement for NSLP meals.
Many effective public and private child
nutrition initiatives are in place. However, underfunding, excessive paper-work,
and other barriers limit their reach. These barriers can be surmounted if
policymakers, educators, dietitians, health professionals, and parents work
together to make good nutrition for youth a national priority.
This digest was adapted from: Troccoli, Karen B. (1993). EAT TO LEARN, LEARN TO EAT: THE LINK BETWEEN NUTRITION AND LEARNING
IN CHILDREN. Washington, DC: National Health/Education Consortium. ED 363 400.
American Cancer Society (ACS) and National Cancer
Institute. (1990). CHANGING THE COURSE. Atlanta: ACS.
Federal Interagency ad hoc Committee on Health Promotion through the Schools.
(1992). HEALTHY SCHOOLS: A DIRECTORY OF
FEDERAL PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES RELATED TO HEALTH PROMOTION
THROUGH THE SCHOOLS. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. ED 360 303.
General Accounting Office. (1992). EARLY INTERVENTION: FEDERAL INVESTMENTS
LIKE WIC CAN PRODUCE SAVINGS. Washington, DC: Author.
Greenstein, R. (1992). IMPROVING THE HEALTH OF THE POOR: STRATEGIES FOR
PREVENTION. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Meyers, A., A. Sampson, and M. Weitzman. (1991). Nutrition and Academic
Performance in School Children. CLINICS IN APPLIED NUTRITION 1(2, April): 13-25.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Extension Service. (1994). EFNEP: IMPACT AND
ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Washington, DC: Author.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (1992a). CHILD
NUTRITION PROGRAM OPERATIONS STUDY, SECOND YEAR REPORT: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.
Alexandria, VA: Author.
..... (1992b). FOOD AND NUTRITION. Vol. 22. No. 1-2. Alexandria, VA: Author.