One of the more popular criticisms of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allowed the USDA to make drastic reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs, has been that kids don’t like what they’re being served and therefore a lot of food is being thrown away—especially fruit.
But a new joint study from Brigham Young University and Cornell University in Preventive Medicine (2015; 71, 27–30) has given many pause, especially because of its simple logic. What if you let the kids run around (remember recess?) before the fruit is offered? It turns out that fruit and vegetable consumption increases by 54% when proffered postactivity.
“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” said lead study author Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. “You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”
The study sample involved seven schools in a Utah school district (grades 1–6). Half of the children in the sample qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch. Three of the schools switched recess to before lunch, while four schools continued to hold recess after lunch. For 4 days in spring and 9 days in the fall, researchers measured fruit and vegetable waste by standing next to the trash cans and counting the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also recorded whether or not each student ate at least one serving of fruits or vegetables.
After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch, children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables. There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. During the same time period, consumption of fruits and vegetables actually decreased in the schools that didn’t switch.
Parents, try this experiment at home!