Open-campus policy eats away at school nutrition effort

Healthy menus don't mean much when students can leave campus for lunch.

May 9—At lunchtime, hundreds of Berkeley (Calif.) High School students rush off campus, leaving behind healthy meals served in the cafeteria for burgers and hot dog joints.

Six miles away at Oakland (Calif.) High School, the cafeteria is mobbed. There are not enough seats for everyone, so some students eat lunch outside on picnic tables while others eat in classrooms. No one goes off campus to pick up food from Wingstop or the ampm convenience store. The difference? The Oakland High students are no longer allowed to leave campus during lunch.

In recent years, lawmakers, regulators and school districts have tried to improve students’ health by curbing the sale of junk food and tightening nutritional standards for school food. But those efforts are undermined when students can leave campus to eat whatever they want, as they can at dozens of Bay Area high schools. Based on the experience in Oakland, closing campuses while offering free lunches can be an effective strategy.