Interventions to improve child nutrition at school have included everything from reducing cookie size, adding fruit to classroom cupcake celebrations, and giving vegetables attractive names, to more comprehensive strategies such as “veggiecation” curricula and transforming school cafeterias.
What happens if you give one group of kids a plate of cookies and the other group the same number of cookies, but cut in half, and tell both groups they can eat as many as they want? Researchers reported that decreasing cookie size led to 25% fewer cookie calories eaten.
The goal of this study was to help counter obesity-promoting eating behaviors facilitated by the availability of large portions of junk food, and the findings suggest that reducing the size of cookies (without altering the total amount of food) decreases children’s short-term caloric intake, a ‘‘dietary strategy’’ for guardians to discreetly decrease unhealthy behaviors. But do you know what's in these things? Partially hydrogenated oil, trans fats. No one should be eating those. In fact, I can think of another "dietary strategy" to decrease kid's intake - don't give them any.
Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Even in the ‘granola crunchy’ San Francisco Bay Area, when parents and school administrators proposed to ban junk food it sent a faction of teachers into an apoplectic fit.
In Texas, there was such parental outrage, they got lawmakers to pass a Safe Cupcake Amendment. The amendment, known as Lauren's Law, ensures that parents and grandparents of schoolchildren celebrating a birthday can bring whatever the heck they want to school.
Fine. What if you just offered fruit in addition to the cupcakes at classroom celebrations? To observe student response to the addition of fresh fruit, bowls of fresh, cut-up fruit provided by the researchers were added to the party food brought by the parents at half of the 4 kindergarten or preschool celebrations. No special effort was made to encourage students to choose the fruit: they just put it out there. Would kids actually eat fruit when there was birthday cake, ice cream, and cheese puffs taking up nearly a whopping third of their daily caloric intake? Yes! On average each kid at a full fruit serving. Take that, cheesy puffs!
There are entire curricula available now for schools, such as veggiecation, where for a whole year classrooms feature a new “veggie of the month,’ sprinkled with nutrition mantras like, ‘‘Fiber equals a happy tummy.’’ And it works! " The active engagement of students in tasting and rating of vegetable dishes seemed to have contributed to higher consumption of featured vegetables.”
One school was able in some cases to double vegetable consumption-just by giving them attractive names. Elementary students ate twice the number of carrots if they were called “X-ray Vision Carrots,” compared to when they were ‘just’ carrots, or generically named as the “Food of the Day.”
How about Power Punch Broccoli, Silly Dilly Green Beans, or calling broccoli Tiny Tasty Tree Tops? Selection of broccoli increased by 109.4%; green beans by 177%. Conclusion: “these studies demonstrate that using an attractive name to describe a healthy food in a cafeteria is robustly effective, persistent, and scalable with little or no money or experience.” These names were not carefully crafted, discussed in focus groups, and then pre-tested. They just thought them up out of thin air. And kids were suckered into eating healthier for months by putting out silly little signs. In this school, vegetable intake was up nearly 100%, while in the control school without signs, vegetable consumption started low and actually got worse. So why isn't every single school in the country doing this right now?! Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.
And if you want to get really bold, you can join the nutritious school lunch revolution led by pioneering organizations like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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What's so bad about trans fats? See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy, Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero, and Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat.
Whenever I find myself frustrated by half measures, I am forced to remind myself just how SAD the Standard American Diet is. See Nation’s Diet in Crisis for a reality check. One of the problems is that parents may not even realize there is a problem (Mothers Overestimate Dietary Quality).
Feel free to check out the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food website at http://www.healthyschoolfood.org/.
This is the first of a 3-part video series on practical tips for dietary improvement. In my next two videos I will cover Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home and Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier.
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