School administrators and public health officials are important players in the choices our children make during meals at school. This evidence review of environmental and policy strategies to improve school nutrition from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helps decision-makers find the right program to achieve healthy outcomes in their schools. UPenn PRC Director and George A. Weiss University Professor, Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH worked with colleagues from the Community Preventive Services Task Force (known as the “Community Guide”), to conduct systematic reviews of the evidence about four types of interventions, evaluating their effectiveness in promoting healthy dietary behaviors and weight.
The first review assessed the availability of healthy foods and beverages for lunch or snacks at school. The second examined the healthy options sold or offered in schools, such as at fundraisers, in vending machines, and at snack bars. The third review looked at a combination of the strategies examined in the first two reviews, and the fourth evaluated the access to safe, free drinking water in schools.
Studies were included in the review if the primary setting was in schools, programs or policies were aimed at obesity prevention or healthy weight promotion to the general student population, took place in kindergarten through high school, and reported a dietary or weight-related outcome estimated to be at least six months after the intervention program or policy began.
After filtering through over 27,000 studies, reviewers identified 54 studies that matched the criteria. Among these studies, they found evidence of effectiveness for preventing or maintaining healthy weight status with two intervention approaches: improving the availability of healthy food and beverages for lunch or snacks at school, and multicomponent interventions including healthier meals and snacks.
Read more about the data extraction, the outcomes of interest, and the evidence of effectiveness in the full article, published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, July 2020 issue.