Dr. Claudia Probart, associate professor of nutritional sciences who led the study, says, "This new information may be useful to school wellness councils as they work toward developing wellness policies as mandated by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 as well as structuring school environments to promote more healthful food choices by students."
The study is detailed in the current (February) issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in a paper, Factors Associated With The Offering and Sale of Competitive Foods and School Lunch Participation. The authors are Probart; Elaine McDonnell, project coordinator; Dr. Terryl Hartman, associate professor of nutritional sciences; J. Elaine Weirich, project coordinator; and Lisa Bailey-Davis, director of operations, Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity, Penn State Harrisburg.
The Penn State researchers sent surveys to school foodservice directors at half (271) of the public high schools in Pennsylvania and received 84 percent participation. The schools were representative of the entire population of high schools in Pennsylvania based on region, rate of free and reduced-price lunch participants, enrollment and percent rural.
Twenty-five percent of the foodservice directors reported that lunch periods are scheduled before 10:30 a.m. and the researchers found that an early lunch start predicted higher a la carte sales. A la Carte foods are those sold in addition to the federally-regulated meal program. These foods are primarily unregulated and may be of lower nutritional value.