Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study: More time for school lunches equals healthier choices for kids

1 Oct

Moi wrote about the limited amount of time some students get to eat lunch in Do kids get enough time to eat lunch? Given the amount that must be packed into the school day, it is no surprise that the lunch period often get short shrift. https://drwilda.com/2012/08/28/do-kids-get-enough-time-to-eat-lunch/
Eric Westervelt of NPR reported in the story, These Days, School Lunch Hours Are More Like 15 Minutes:

The school lunch hour in America is a long-gone relic. At many public schools today, kids are lucky to get more than 15 minutes to eat. Some get even less time.
And parents and administrators are concerned that a lack of time to eat is unhealthful, especially given that about one-third of American kids are overweight or obese…
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/12/04/248511038/these-days-school-lunch-hours-are-more-like-15-minutes

A T.H. Chan School of Public Health confirms kids are not getting enough time to eat lunch.

Science Daily reported in More time for school lunches equals healthier choices for kids: Children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when given at least 25 minutes for lunch, according to a new study the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Elementary and middle school students who are given at least 25 minutes to eat lunch are more likely to choose fruits and consume more of their entrees, milk, and vegetables according to a new study released in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Each day, over 30 million U.S. students receive a free or discounted meal thanks to the National School Lunch Program. For children from low-income households, these meals can account for almost half of their daily caloric intake, so it is vitally important for schools to find ways to improve student selections and consumption and limit food waste.

This new study examined the association between the length of the lunch period and the food choices and intake of students. Data for the study were collected on six nonconsecutive days throughout the 2011 to 2012 school year as part of the MEALS study, a large, school-based randomized controlled trial. The MEALS study was a collaboration between the nonprofit organization Project Bread and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health to improve the selection and consumption of healthier school foods. Researchers conducted a plate waste study, which is the gold standard for assessing children’s diets.

Investigators found that when kids have less than 20 minutes of seated time in the cafeteria to eat lunch, they were significantly less likely to select a fruit when compared to peers who had at least 25 minutes to eat lunch (44% vs 57%, respectively). Furthermore, the study found that children with less than 20 minutes to eat lunch consumed 13% less of their entrees, 10% less of their milk, and 12% less of their veggies when compared to students who had at least 25 minutes to eat their lunch. This indicates that kids who were given less time at lunch may be missing out on key components of a healthy diet such as fiber-rich whole grains and calcium.

“Policies that improve the school food environment can have important public health implications in addressing the growing socioeconomic disparities in the prevalence of obesity and in improving the overall nutrient quality of children’s diets,” explained lead investigator Juliana F. W. Cohen, ScD, ScM, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Sciences, Merrimack College, North Andover, MA, and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA. “This research suggests that enabling students to have sufficient time to eat their meals can help address this important issue.”

According to the study, another challenge kids face is the minutes they must use during their school lunchtime period for activities besides eating or sitting. Many students spend a considerable amount of time traveling to the cafeteria and then waiting in line to get their lunch. After taking this into account, some children in the study had as little as 10 minutes to eat their lunch….. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150911094910.htm

Citation:

Ellen Parker, MBA, MSW
,
Eric B. Rimm, ScD
Received: April 16, 2015; Accepted: July 24, 2015; Published Online: September 11, 2015
Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019
Article Info
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• Abstract
• Full Text
• References
Abstract
Background

There are currently no national standards for school lunch period length and little is known about the association between the amount of time students have to eat and school food selection and consumption.
Objective

Our aim was to examine plate-waste measurements from students in the control arm of the Modifying Eating and Lifestyles at School study (2011 to 2012 school year) to determine the association between amount of time to eat and school meal selection and consumption.

Design
We used a prospective study design using up to six repeated measures among students during the school year.
Participants/setting
One thousand and one students in grades 3 to 8 attending six participating elementary and middle schools in an urban, low-income school district where lunch period lengths varied from 20 to 30 minutes were included.
Main outcome measures
School food selection and consumption were collected using plate-waste methodology.
Statistical analyses performed
Logistic regression and mixed-model analysis of variance was used to examine food selection and consumption.

Results
Compared with meal-component selection when students had at least 25 minutes to eat, students were significantly less likely to select a fruit (44% vs 57%; P<0.0001) when they had <20 minutes to eat. There were no significant differences in entrée, milk, or vegetable selections. Among those who selected a meal component, students with <20 minutes to eat consumed 13% less of their entrée (P<0.0001), 10% less of their milk (P<0.0001), and 12% less of their vegetable (P<0.0001) compared with students who had at least 25 minutes to eat.

Conclusions
During the school year, a substantial number of students had insufficient time to eat, which was associated with significantly decreased entrée, milk, and vegetable consumption compared with students who had more time to eat. School policies that encourage lunches with at least 25 minutes of seated time might reduce food waste and improve dietary intake.

Keywords:
School lunch, Lunch period length, Fruit intake, Vegetable intake, Milk intake

More time for school lunches equals healthier choices for kids
Children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when given at least 25 minutes for lunch, according to a new study the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Date: September 11, 2015

Source: Elsevier Health Sciences

Summary:
Elementary and middle school students who are given at least 25 minutes to eat lunch are more likely to choose fruits and consume more of their entrees, milk, and vegetables according to a new study.

Journal Reference:
1. Juliana F.W. Cohen, Jaquelyn L. Jahn, Scott Richardson, Sarah A. Cluggish, Ellen Parker, Eric B. Rimm. Amount of Time to Eat Lunch Is Associated with Children’s Selection and Consumption of School Meal Entrée, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019

Here is the press release from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:

Short lunch periods in schools linked with less healthy eating

For immediate release: September 11, 2015

Boston, MA ─ Students with less than 20 minutes to eat school lunches consume significantly less of their entrées, milk, and vegetables than those who aren’t as rushed, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study will appear online Friday, September 11, 2015 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Many children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake so it is essential that we give students a sufficient amount of time to eat their lunches,” said Juliana Cohen, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School, assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Merrimack College, and lead author of the study.
“Every school day the National School Lunch Program helps to feed over 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the U.S., yet little research has been done in this field,” said Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School and the study’s senior author. (Watch Rimm discuss the study on CBS Boston.)
While recent federal guidelines enhanced the nutritional quality of school lunches, there are no standards regarding lunch period length. Many students have lunch periods that are 20 minutes or less, which can be an insufficient amount of time to eat, according to the authors.
The researchers wanted to examine the effect of lunch period length on students’ food choices and intake. They looked at 1,001 students in six elementary and middle schools, with lunch periods ranging from 20-30 minutes, in a low-income urban school district in Massachusetts, as part of the Modifying Eating and Lifestyles at School (MEALS) study, a collaboration between Project Bread and Harvard Chan School. They analyzed the students’ food selection and consumption by monitoring what was left on their plates at the end of the lunch period.
The researchers found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat lunch consumed 13% less of their entrées, 12% less of their vegetables, and 10% less of their milk than students who had at least 25 minutes to eat. While there were no notable differences between the groups in terms of entrée, milk, or vegetable selections, those with less time to eat were significantly less likely to select a fruit (44% vs. 57%). Also, there was more food waste among groups with less time to eat.
Waiting in serving lines or arriving late to lunch sometimes left children in the study with as little as 10 minutes to actually sit and eat. The researchers acknowledged that while not all schools may be able to lengthen their lunch periods, they could develop strategies to move kids more quickly through lunch lines, such as by adding more serving lines or setting up automated checkout systems.
“We were surprised by some of the results because I expected that with less time children may quickly eat their entrée and drink their milk but throw away all of their fruits and vegetables,” said Rimm. “Not so—we found they got a start on everything, but couldn’t come close to finishing with less time to eat.”
Jaquelyn Jahn, a master’s student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School, was a co-author.
The study was funded by a grant from Project Bread and Arbella Insurance. Cohen was supported by the Nutritional Epidemiology of Cancer Education and Career Development Program (R25 CA 098566).
“Amount of Time to Eat Lunch Is Associated with Children’s Selection and Consumption of School Meal Entrée, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk,” Juliana F. W. Cohen, Jaquelyn L. Jahn, Scott Richardson, Sarah A. Cluggish, Ellen Parker, Eric B. Rimm, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online September 11, 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019
Visit the Harvard Chan website for the latest news, press releases, and multimedia offerings.
For more information:
Todd Datz
tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-8413
Photo: iStockphoto.com
###
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.

In order to ensure that ALL children have a basic education, we must take a comprehensive approach to learning.
A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©

Related:

School dinner programs: Trying to reduce the number of hungry children

https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/school-dinner-programs-trying-to-reduce-the-number-of-hungry-children/

School lunches: The political hot potato

https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/school-lunches-the-political-hot-potato/

The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress

https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-government-that-money-buys-school-lunch-cave-in-by-congress/

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