Media reports that school districts are leaving the National School Lunch Program and that some students are going hungry to avoid eating healthy foods misrepresented a recent nationwide survey, healthy food advocates say.

Supporters of healthy food initiatives – including the American Heart Association – say news stories highlighted only a tiny segment of the respondents to the School Nutrition Association survey.

In the survey, schools were asked, “Does your school nutrition program plan on dropping any schools in your district from NSLP for the 2013/14 school year?”

The original report from The Associated Press focused on the districts leaving the program, and reported several paragraphs into the  story that of the 521 school nutrition directors responding to the survey, 1 percent said they planned to drop the federally subsidized lunch program and 3 percent were considering it.

The School Nutrition Association said that mischaracterized the results since the number of districts considering dropping was so small.

“The vast majority of respondents (92.7%) reported that they do not plan, nor are considering, dropping any schools from NSLP, clearly indicating that there is no national trend of schools dropping out of NSLP,” said the School Nutrition Association’s in a release after the story ran in August. The survey did not ask participants to quantify the number of schools in their district planning/considering dropping the program.

When asked for comment, AP reiterated that the numbers were correct.

“The AP included the following information in our story:  The School Nutrition Association found that 1 percent of 521 district nutrition directors surveyed over the summer planned to drop out of the program in the 2013-14 school year and about 3 percent were considering the move,” AP spokeswoman Erin Madigan responded by email.

Jill Birnbaum, vice president of state advocacy for the American Heart Association, said the suggestion that no children are eating healthier foods or that most school districts are losing money by offering healthy foods is unfortunate.

“One-third of all children are obese or overweight, which will lead to dire health consequences if communities, including schools, don’t do something about it,” Birnbaum said. “The National School Lunch program is one of many efforts that are necessary to give children healthier options and improve their health.”

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