Understanding How School Food Availability Affects Students’ Eating Behaviors

Two smiling teenage boys, one holding a banana and one holding an apple, sit at a table filled with plates of vegetables.

Few children and teens in the United States follow national dietary guidelines for a healthy diet. Both the foods available at school and those available at food outlets in the surrounding neighborhood may impact an adolescent’s diet.

Researchers from the Social and Behavioral Sciences Branch examined relationships of school food availability with students’ consumption of certain foods and body mass index (BMI). They also assessed whether the number of neighborhood food outlets affects these connections. The data came from the Next Generation Health Study (NEXT), a nationally representative study of 10th graders enrolled during the 2009-2010 school year.

In general, students at schools at which fruits and vegetables were widely available were more likely to consume these foods. However, the greater the number of neighborhood food outlets within 5 kilometers of the school, the weaker the association of school foods with students’ fruit and vegetable intake.

Neither the number of neighborhood food outlets nor the availability of snacks and soda at school was associated with student consumption of snacks and soda. The researchers also found no link between student BMI and either school food availability or the number of neighborhood food outlets.

The findings indicate that the neighborhood food environment may modify relationships between the school food environment and students’ eating behaviors. Additional research is needed to find ways to support healthy student eating behaviors in neighborhoods with many food outlets.

Learn more about the Division of Population Health Research (DiPHR): https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/dir/dph

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