New Study Contradicts Conservative Media's Attacks On Healthy School Lunches

Kids at LunchA new study on school lunches casts doubt on conservative media's politicized rhetoric regarding first lady Michelle Obama's school-lunch initiative.

In January 2012, Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled healthier standards for school lunches, the first effort to do so “in more than fifteen years.” However, in May of this year, the new standards suffered a political backlash in Congress. The Washington Post reported that the House Appropriations Committee voted for a “Republican-backed measure” to temporarily roll back the standards in a “party-line vote [that] served as a rebuke of sorts to the first lady.”

Right-wing media, who have a poor track record when it comes to talking about school meals, especially free ones, took to attacking Michelle Obama and the school lunch program itself for “plate waste” amid reports that students supposedly didn't like the new, healthier food.

However, a new study published Monday in the journal Childhood Obesity shows that students get used to the new lunches with time. According to The Boston Globe, the study found that “over time, children adapt and tolerate school lunches just as much as in the old days”:

As politicians debate whether to keep the new federal school lunch standards or grant temporary waivers for districts that are losing money, a new study suggests that over time, children adapt and tolerate school lunches just as much as in the old days.

In a survey of 557 school administrators nationwide, researchers found that about half of respondents reported that elementary, middle, and high schools complained at first about the switch to whole wheat bread, plain low-fat milk, salads, and fresh fruit -- and away from chocolate milk, pizza, and French fries. But 70 percent of the school administrators, who included principals and food service providers, said student acceptance of the meals had increased over time and their students now largely like the lunches.

School Lunch Graph

The survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was conducted in the spring of 2013, about six months after the full set of standards went into effect. Results were published Monday in the journal Childhood Obesity.

Education Week also reported on the new study, citing previous reports that “levels [of plate waste] are not higher than they were before the standards were adopted”:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has countered claims of increased discarded food by pointing to a March study by researchers at Harvard University that found that students are now eating more fruit and vegetables, and that, while plate waste is a concern, levels are not any higher than they were before the standards were adopted. Research included in the Bridging the Gap brief shows that respondents, who were either principals or food service providers, have seen fewer complaints since students first began eating meals prepared under the new rules.

Given conservative media's interest in the first lady's school lunch initiative, the question now is whether these outlets will cover a study that casts doubt on their previous attacks.

For instance, radio host Mark Levin called Michelle Obama “arrogant” and “clueless” on the May 27 edition of his show [75:02]. Later, he said, “You have millions of kids in this country who will not eat this lunch that she insists they eat. It's not a question of it being healthy. These are small portions, the kids don't like it, and this isn't East Germany.”

And on the May 27 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith said the lunch program was being “forced down [schools'] throat”:

SMITH: It's been incredibly expensive. ... These school nutritionists are having a very hard time, first, keeping the food on the plate and into the kids' mouth. They're throwing it away. So you've got the plate waste that everybody's talking about.

Then you actually have the economics of this that are failing. ... [Schools] just want some flexibility because it's being forced down their throat right now.

Photo via USDAgov using a Creative Commons license.