Questioning the Polls on School Lunch Decisions

June 18, 2014

By Mark Bishop, Vice President of Policy

There’s nothing like a bad poll to get my blood boiling. A recent poll is making the rounds suggesting that “adults prefer local decisions on school lunch.”

The six-item poll is from a conservative-leaning Rasmussen report that surveyed 1,000 nationwide adults between May 28-29.

You can make any number of errors when conducting or reporting on a poll, but some are more obvious than the others. In this case, I see two glaring issues.

First, the results reported were cherry-picked from a poll that actually showed support for school food standards. However, a number of media outlets are only reporting on a single, badly worded question in the poll.

If your intent is to create opposition to healthy school food policy, I’d say cherry-picking is a good strategy. If you look at the other questions you’ll see a lot of support for healthy school food standards, including:

  • 85% of adults view childhood obesity in the U.S. as very (45%) or somewhat (40%) serious issue.

  • 59% of adults say “yes,” all public schools in the U.S. should be required to meet the same level of nutrition in the food they serve (compared to 29% who say “no”).

  • 50% of adults say “yes,” sugary snacks and soft drinks should be banned from sale in schools (compared to 41% who say “no”).

Second, and my biggest pet peeve, is how the reported question is asked. In short, the multiple choice answers were leading and did not even include the real answer.

To the question, “Who should set nutritional standards for schools?” the following answers were offered: Federal Government, State Government, Local Government, Parent-Teacher Groups, and Not Sure.

What’s missing? How about Nutrition and Health Professionals?

In fact, nutrition and health professionals are the ones who created the current school nutrition standards. In 2009, experts from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the current state of nutrition research and determined that school nutrition standards were desperately out of date and that they needed to be updated to promote vegetable consumption, increase whole grains, decrease sodium.

My prediction is if we added “Nutrition and Health Professionals” to the poll it would have been far and away the leading answer.

Implementation and menu planning should be decided by local communities to account for regional and local preferences (this is how it currently works!), but the science behind nutrition and health doesn’t change from state to state or district to district.

Help us combat this type of misleading reporting and tell our political leaders that we need to ensure a healthier generation by supporting healthy school food. We all need to take a stand to oppose any efforts to weaken our school food programs.

Please join our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest by signing their petition demanding healthy school food for our kids.