CEPH's Michele Polacsek publishes two manuscripts on the U.S. school food landscape

Michele Polacsek
Michele Polacsek, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Michele Polacsek, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of public health at UNE and director of the Center for Excellence in Public Health, is co-author on two manuscripts just published on research evaluating the school food environment in the United States.

The first article, titled “Parent perceptions of school meals and how perceptions differ by race and ethnicity,” assessed California parents’ perceptions of school meals during the COVID-19 emergency response with federally funded universal free school meals (USFMs) and whether perceptions differed by race/ethnicity.

Most reported school meals benefit their families, saving them money, time, and stress. Parents of Hispanic and Asian students had less favorable perceptions of school meal quality, taste, and healthfulness than parents of White students. Parents report that school meals benefit their families, but policy efforts are needed to ensure schools have the resources needed to optimize participation.

The second article, “Competitive Foods’ Nutritional Quality and Compliance with Smart Snacks Standards: An Analysis of a National Sample of U.S. Middle and High Schools,” assessed competitive foods (foods sold in vending machines and school stores often competing with school meals) in a national sample of 90 middle and high schools.

Differences in compliance by school characteristics were measured. Competitive foods were less commonly available in schools with USFM policies and were compliant in only 50 to 75% of cases. Smart Snacks standards compliance was greater when competitive foods were overseen by food service departments, in comparison with others. Therefore, schools should consider requiring school food service departments to oversee competitive foods. Federal and state policies should limit added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and synthetic dyes. USFM policies should also be considered to support healthier school meal environments more broadly.

For more information about the research team and its products, please visit: https://www.childnourishlab.org/healthy-school-meals-for-all