The federal government has been fighting the national obesity crisis upstream,focusing since 2000 on healthier meals for school children. A studyfrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers evidencethat strategy may be working.

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In its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC reportson federal efforts to infuse school meals with healthier choices.Overall, the news was encouraging.

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“Most schools in the U.S. are implementing healthy practices to help meetfederal school meal standards by offering whole grains, more fruitsand vegetables, and reducing sodium content,” CDC said in arelease. In fact, the study said, students who dine onschool-served fare are eating substantially better than those thatget their sustenance elsewhere.

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Read: 10 fattest states inAmerica

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new nutritionstandards for school meals in 2012 and, the report said, thosestandards are being met by the majority of schools. The standardsrequire whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and less sodiumto be included in school meals. The report said a review of schoollunch data revealed that “the percentage of schools implementingfive of the nine school nutrition services practices examined hasincreased significantly.”

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The report said that, in 2014:

  • 97 percent of schools offered whole grains each day forbreakfast and 94 percent did so for lunch;

  • 79 percent offered two or more vegetables (up from 61.7 percentin 2000) and 78 percent offered two or more fruits (up from 68.1percent in 2000) each day for lunch;

  • 30 percent offered self-serve salad bars;

  • More than half of schools that prepared their meals at theschool used fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned (54.1percent), used low-sodium canned vegetables instead of regularcanned vegetables (51.8 percent, up from 10.3 percent in 2000),used other seasonings instead of salt (65.1 percent up from 32.8percent in 2000), and reduced the amount of sodium called for inrecipes or used low-sodium recipes (68.0 percent up from 34.1percent in 2000).

“School meals are healthier now than ever before. We’ve madereal progress, but there is much more to do to help Americanchildren make food choices that will keep them healthy throughouttheir lives,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.