Parents Indicate School Cafeterias Could Do Better

by Lydia Saad

Though most say lunches are nutritious, two-thirds of Americans say more healthy food should be offered

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With the rate of childhood obesity growing exponentially in the United States (and throughout the industrialized world), school cafeterias are coming under increased scrutiny for the fare they serve. Chicken fingers, French fries, and hot dogs may sound like the choices at a fast food restaurant, but they are also popular school lunch items. Are parents alarmed?

No, they are not alarmed, but they are not entirely content, either, according to findings from a recent USA Today/Gallup poll that asked the parents of school-aged children to rate the foods served at the school their oldest child attends. Close to two-thirds of parents say the lunches served in their child's school are generally nutritious, while only 27% say they are not that nutritious or not at all nutritious. However, within the majority group, only 21% describe school lunches as "very" nutritious.

Concerned critics are upset not only at the junk food and soda sold in school vending machines, but also with the a la carte food options, including branded fast food, now sold in many school cafeterias. This tends to satisfy students' demands for tasty food, and can be profitable for schools, but, according to some observers, undermines the nutritional goals of the federal school lunch program.

Parents are closely divided over whether their child's school is offering too many foods that should not be served to children. Forty-three percent say the schools offer too many objectionable foods, while 48% say they do not.

A stronger call for change comes from a question asking parents whether their child's school is doing enough to offer healthy foods such as whole grain breads, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Indeed, two-thirds of parents indicate that their child's school could do better, saying they should be offering more of these kinds of foods.

You Say You Want a Revolution…

In 1995, chef Alice Waters established a model program called the Edible Schoolyard in which students help cultivate an organic garden, use the produce in a classroom kitchen, and receive a well-rounded appreciation for fresh, natural food. A group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which issues an annual report card grading the nation's largest school districts' lunch programs, recommends that schools put more low fat, vegetarian, and vegan items on their menus, and encourages school gardens.

Even simple steps like replacing white bread with whole grains and serving fresh fruit in place of cookies for dessert could move some nutrition lessons from the classroom to the lunchroom and possibly help stave off a lifetime of obesity, particularly for the roughly 17% of young people already classified as overweight.

However, forcing change in this area is difficult, in part because of the resistance from children to losing their favorite foods. Without strong pressure from parents, it is unlikely that school lunch programs will be transformed. And according to the survey results, while parents might applaud healthier school lunches, they aren't about to march in the streets over the issue.

Furthermore, parents do not generally hold the nation's schools responsible for childhood obesity. Only about one-third of parents blame school lunches a great deal or moderate amount for this problem. More than twice as many parents say schools are not much or not at all to blame.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 3-5, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 244 parents of children in grades kindergarten through 12, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

D21. Do you have any children who will be attending school in kindergarten through grade 12 this year?

Yes

No

No opinion

2007 Aug 3-5

29%

71

*

* Less than 0.5%

38. (Asked of those who are parents of children in grades K-12) Generally speaking, would you describe the lunches served in the school that your oldest child attends as -- very nutritious, somewhat nutritious, not that nutritious, or not nutritious at all?

BASED ON 244 PARENTS OF CHILDREN IN GRADES K-12

                       


Very
nutritious


Somewhat
nutritious


Not that
nutritious


Not nutritious
at all


No
opinion

2007 Aug 3-5

21%

42

17

10

11

39. (Asked of those who are parents of children in grades K-12) Thinking about the amount of foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads offered in your child's school, do you think the school is offering enough of these kinds of food, or should it offer more?

BASED ON 244 PARENTS OF CHILDREN IN GRADES K-12

Offering enough

Should offer more

No opinion

2007 Aug 3-5

27%

66

8

40. (Asked of those who are parents of children in grades K-12) Do you think your child's school is offering too many foods that should not be served to children, or not?

BASED ON 244 PARENTS OF CHILDREN IN GRADES K-12

Yes, too many

No, not

No opinion

2007 Aug 3-5

43%

48

8

41. (Asked of those who are parents of children in grades K-12) How much do you think school lunches are to blame for the problem of childhood obesity -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all?

BASED ON 244 PARENTS OF CHILDREN IN GRADES K-12

                       

Great
deal

Moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

2007 Aug 3-5

9%

22

37

30

2

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28402/Parents-Indicate-School-Cafeterias-Could-Better.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030