An ongoing experiment going on over the past 13 years or so in Appleton, Wisconsin, a town southwest of Green Bay, could make the strongest argument for healthy school lunches yet: Since the school district began switching from processed foods to more nutritional offerings, it's experienced a precipitous drop in all sort of deleterious behaviors, from drop outs to students carrying weapons.
Among the changes undertaken by school officials, Central Alternative High School Principal LuAnn Coenen told the blog WELL Said, were pulling vending machines stocked with soda out of their facilities and dumping burgers and fries in favor of water coolers and salad bars heaped with fresh fruits and vegetables. After the changes took place, the school no longer needed police on their grounds, as incidents of drug use, vandalism, and even student mental health issues all diminished (PDF).
The behavior of the students in Appleton is consistent with previous, more rigorous scientific studies that suggest that better school lunches improve student performance, says the WELL Said post:
Proof exists that reducing sugar and fat intake leads to higher IQ’s and improved grades in school. Stephen Schoenthaler, professor of criminal justice at California State University proved that much when he conducted a study on students at 803 low-income neighborhood schools in New York City. With a supervised change in the students’ diets, passing final exam grades went from 11% below the national average to 5% above it.\n
The Appleton story underscores the potential value of programs like the Early Learning Challenge Fund, money cut out of the health care bill that would have been earmarked for providing support services (including those related to health and nutrition) for children five and under. By getting these kids access to healthier food options earlier in life, it could diminish some of the future behavioral problems seen in schools all around the country.
Here's a video documenting some of Appleton's early success: