C. Probart, PhD, RD*; E. McDonnell, MS, RD, LDN*; T. Hartman, PhD, RD, MPH*; J. E. Weirich, M Ed*; C. Orlofsky, BA*; L. Bailey-Davis, MA, RD** * Penn State University, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University Park, PA ** Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity, Harrisburg, PA
PURPOSE/OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this research was to identify environmental issues related to participation in school lunch and sale of competitive foods in Pennsylvania public high schools.


METHODOLOGY: A survey was developed which included questions about school demographics, sales of competitive foods, average daily participation in school lunch (ADP), and school nutrition policies. Surveys were distributed to 271 school foodservice directors (SFD) in a random sample of high schools in Pennsylvania that were selected to be representative of the entire population of high schools in Pennsylvania based on chosen demographic characteristics. As an alternative to the hard-copy version of the survey, respondents were given the option to complete a web-based version. Descriptive and multiple regression analyses were done using SPSS® version 11.5.1.

RESULTS: Two hundred twenty-eight SFD (84%) returned surveys. Percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price meals and timing of lunch were significant predictors of a la carte sales. Those SFD indicating their first lunch time begins at 10:30AM reported higher a la carte sales. High enrollment was associated with fewer vending machines per student. Existence of soft drink machines owned by soft drink companies, for which the school receives a percent of sales, was associated with a higher number of vending machines per student. Enrollment was inversely related to ADP. The percentage of students eligible for free/reduced price meals was positively associated with ADP. SFD that reported enforcement of a policy prohibiting parents or students from bringing food into the cafeteria from local fast food establishments reported higher ADP.

APPLICATIONS: This research identifies several modifiable environmental issues related to participation in school meals and competitive food sales, including timing of lunch and the existence and enforcement of a nutrition policy. These findings may be useful to child nutrition professionals in schools in developing wellness policies, promoting school meal participation, and establishing school environments to promote healthier food choices by students.