By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Making fruits and vegetables more attractive in high school cafeterias and lunchrooms can help increase their consumption among students, say researchers.
Writing in The Journal of Pediatrics, Andrew Hanks (Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA) and colleagues report the results of a small exploratory study looking at the impact of a "smarter lunchroom makeover" that was implemented during the course of one afternoon in two high schools (grades 7-12) in New York.
When fruit and vegetable consumption among the students was compared, the team found that students were 13.4% and 23.0% more likely to take a fruit or vegetable, respectively, after than before the intervention.
The intervention took place in May 2011 and actual consumption was assessed by measuring tray waste at the two schools on two dates in March, two in May and two in June and calculating mean consumption of fruit and vegetables based on purchase records.
From these data, the researchers estimated that overall fruit consumption increased by 18% and vegetable consumption by 25% after the intervention and that students were 16% and 10% more likely to eat a whole serving of fruit or vegetables, respectively, after versus before the changes took place.
The changes involved improving the convenience of fruits and vegetables - for example by including them in a "Healthy convenience line" that only included sandwiches and fruits and vegetable sides and by putting fresh fruit next to the cash register. Appeal was also improved by including posters with attractive color photos of fruit and vegetable options on the menu and by displaying fruit in tiered stands or smart bowls.
The cafeteria staff also participated by verbally prompting the children to try fruit and vegetable options at several points in the food purchasing process.
"The changes took only 3 hours to implement and cost less than $ 50 [€ 33]," explain Hanks and team.
"With more than 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, a low-cost, effective, and easily scalable intervention such as the smarter lunchroom makeover is a feasi
ble approach to addressing childhood obesity," they conclude.
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