School lunches and vending machines aren't the only places to look for ways to improve students' nutrition. Modest changes in the kinds of snacks offered at after-school programs can also have a significant positive impact on children's diets, UC Davis researchers reported in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers showed that a healthy snack menu in an after-school program can help low-income children — those at highest risk of obesity — consume more fruit and less saturated fat. Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic illnesses, including some cancers. The study focused on an after-school program called Students Today Achieving Results for Tomorrow, which serves 8,000 low-income kids from 44 public elementary schools in Sacramento, Elk Grove and Rio Linda. The program made such snack substitutions as animal crackers for brownies and fresh apples for canned peaches.
"Even though school food programs have very limited budgets, this study suggests that with leadership and a little bit of political will, food service for kids really can be improved," said lead author Diana Cassady, an assistant professor of public health sciences.