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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
vending machine profits were observed during the price reduction intervention. More generally, reducing the prices of targeted foods has consistently produced increases in their purchase among adolescents in school settings, regardless of whether the target foods were vending machine snacks or fresh fruits and vegetables sold in food-service areas.
These pilot studies point to the need for further research and evaluation of pricing strategies. If competitive food sales to students continue, school food services should consider the strategy of price increases on higher fat, low-nutrient-dense foods in tandem with lower prices on more healthful foods (Hannan et al., 2002). This strategy could achieve the dual goals of promoting healthful food choices among students and maintaining needed school food-service revenues.
Innovative approaches are needed to encourage students to consume nutritious foods and beverages. Pilot programs offer the potential to implement and carefully evaluate a variety of strategies related to pricing and funding issues.
The committee proposes that USDA conduct pilot studies to examinethe benefits and costs of providing full funding for school breakfast, lunch,and snack programs in a targeted subset of schools that include a largepercentage of children at high risk for obesity. Outcomes to be examined would include the impact on student nutritional status and on obesity prevalence. It may also be valuable to examine whether the cost of providing free meals is less expensive than the cost to monitor and track free and reduced-price eligibility for school meals.
Pilot programs could also be used to develop, implement, and evaluate alternative models to financially support school and student programs without relying significantly on food and beverage sales.
Experimental research is needed to examine the effects of school-based interventions and policy changes on students’ dietary intake and eating behaviors. For example, changes in food availability and access to both healthful and less healthful foods, pricing of foods and beverages sold through competitive food sources and pricing of the school meals, promotional programs to support healthful food choices, and corporate-sponsored in-school food and beverage marketing activities need to be evaluated to determine their effects on students’ diet and eating behaviors. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies are needed to evaluate the effects of school- and district-level policies regarding school food and beverage availability and marketing on student dietary intake and on school revenues. Academic performance and classroom and social behavior are secondary outcomes of interest.