What’s the Effectiveness in Lunchroom Consumption Strategies

2018-12-20

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School nutrition programs strive to provide nutritious food to children, and efforts to combat childhood obesity led to creation of Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) strategies. These provide schools with evidence-based solutions to foster healthy eating habits. The goal was to nudge kids to eat healthier with simple no-cost or low-cost strategies based on evidence from disciplines of economics, marketing and psychology.

However, results have been inconsistent with actual impact on students’ selection and consumption of healthier food choices. In their review of the literature of SLM strategies focused on students in grades K - 8, researchers applied a rigorous three-stage process: search, distillation, and full review. This review may be considered the first systematic review of SLM strategies. The review, entitled “The Impact of the Smarter Lunchroom Movement Strategies Have on School Children’s Healthy Food Selection and Consumption,” was published in the Fall 2018 edition Journal of Child Nutrition & Management

In the search phase of the review, over 1,669 documents were retrieved from a variety of scholarly databases, but later whittled down to 38 based on nine selective criteria in the distillation segment. Ultimately, 11 articles were accepted for full review and evaluation by two researchers.   

These 11 different studies utilized different SLM strategies to motivate children to create healthier eating habits. Strategies included involving school staff, creating a friendlier environment within the cafeteria, taste tests, etc. The SLM strategy that increased selection of healthier food choices the most involved the participation of both children and school staff (teachers, principals, school nutrition department, etc.).  

The authors concluded, “Additionally, one study showed that providing nutrition education to children in combination with a SLM strategy that involved both children and staff increased consumption of healthy foods more so than just the SLM strategy alone. Therefore, it would be important to not only involve children in the promotional process or in tasting foods prior to implementation on the school-menus, but to also educate them on the importance of consuming these foods”.

Overall, the studies revealed that SLM strategies resulted in students selecting and, in some cases, consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and/or white milk. Yet findings from specific studies yielded inconsistent results. In the article, the authors present a table summarizing results of full review of the 11 studies. Practitioners will find this table very useful in identifying potential solutions for their programs.

To read the full article and learn more about the effectiveness of SLM strategies, check out the Fall 2018 edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition& Management

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