The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that school-age children consume 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 1.5 to 3 cups of vegetables per day depending on age and gender—but are afterschool programs offering up all the nutrition they need?
More than 10 million U.S. children participated in afterschool programs in 2014, almost half from low-income households. Because these programs reach so many children in need and typically offer food daily, afterschool programs can have a positive impact on children's diets and improve equity in access to healthy food.
Currently, several regulatory and advisory mechanisms influence food served in afterschool programs. For example, afterschool programs may participate in USDA child nutrition programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), both of which have menu pattern guidelines for snacks and meals. CACFP and NSLP allow—but do not require—afterschool providers to serve fruit and vegetables daily. Afterschool programs may also participate in the Summer Food Service Program, which requires that all meals include two servings of fruit, vegetables or both, but participation is seasonal. Apart from these federal programs, afterschool programs may face nutrition requirements imposed by local jurisdictional rules such as licensing regulations, although licensing language varies widely. Outside of regulation, afterschool menus may reflect organization-specific policies and initiatives. For example, many large afterschool providers have nutrition initiatives grounded in the 2011 National AfterSchool Association Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (NAA HEPA) standards.
In reality, 6 of 10 children in the U.S. underconsume fruit and more than 9 of 10 underconsume vegetables—rendering it imperative to make these types of food available during afterschool programs. Consuming fruit and vegetables helps children achieve appropriate intake of underconsumed nutrients, reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases and helps children manage their weight.
A new peer-reviewed study shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the frequency and quality of fruit and vegetables offered during snack time in U.S. afterschool programs. It also examined program-level factors associated with offering them, including awareness and use of the National AfterSchool Association Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards.
Collected from 684 National AfterSchool Association members and their colleagues via a 2015 online survey, data indicated that at the previous snack, 63 percent of respondents offered fruit, a vegetable or both; 42 percent offered only fruit; 18 percent offered fruit and vegetables; and 3 percent offered only vegetables. The quality of the items offered showed that most afterschool programs surveyed selected the healthiest options.
The study also found that respondents utilized the NAA HEPA standards for menu planning and training staff members in healthy eating more than once a year. Programs run by school districts were found to be less likely to offer fruit than programs run by other organizations.
Conclusively, membership in the National AfterSchool Association and use of its Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards are associated with offering fruit and vegetables during snack at afterschool programs staffed by National AfterSchool Association members and their colleagues across the United States.
Citations: Wiecha JL, Williams PA, Giombi KC, Richer A, Hall G. Survey of Afterschool Programs Suggests Most Offer Fruit and Vegetables Daily. Prev Chronic Dis 2018;15:170396. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd15.170396.
Information courtesy of the CDC.